By Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico's ruling party was on track to win four of six state elections on Sunday, preliminary results showed, tightening President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's hold on power in the run-up to the contest to succeed him in 2024.
Lopez Obrador's leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and its allies led gubernatorial races in the states of Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Hidalgo and Tamaulipas, according to partial preliminary voting tallies by electoral authorities.
Opposition candidates were ahead in counts in the central state of Aguascalientes and Durango in the north. The results were broadly in line with most opinion polls. All of the states holding elections began the day in opposition hands.
Capturing four of the six governorships would give MORENA control of 20 of Mexico's 32 regional administrations, and underline the electoral clout the president still boasts. Governors allied with MORENA also run two other states.
Julio Ruiz, a 52-year-old teacher, said he was looking forward to MORENA increasing its power. "If we're all with the president, we'll fare better," he said while on the way to cast his vote in the center of Oaxaca City in southern Mexico.
Javier Oliva, a political scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said if MORENA were to win a majority of the states, it should help consolidate the president's influence over the party.
"It would give Lopez Obrador a good deal of power to decide who will be the candidate in 2024," Oliva said.
Polls have consistently shown Lopez Obrador is more popular than MORENA, the party that was a vehicle for his presidential campaign in 2018, when he won by a landslide.
Grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, he has fallen short of campaign pledges to ramp up economic growth and significantly reduce gang-fueled violence. However, his rollout of social welfare programs has buttressed his popularity.
Guadalupe Mejia, a 79-year-old voter in the beach resort of Cancun in Quintana Roo, said she was most concerned about security and education, and was not backing MORENA on Sunday.
"I can't help noticing mistakes made at federal level being passed on to the states," she said.
Under Mexican law, presidents can serve only a single six-year term. Lopez Obrador's successor is scheduled to be elected in June 2024. Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard are among the favorites for the job.
Political analysts tend to view Sheinbaum as more ideologically aligned with Lopez Obrador's base, and Ebrard as more moderate, with greater appeal to middle-class voters.
(Reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico CityAdditional reporting by Paola Chiomante in Cancun, Lizbeth Diaz in Tlaxcala, Jorge Luis Plata in Oaxaca City and Brendan O'Boyle in Mexico CityEditing by Aurora Ellis, Matthew Lewis & Simon Cameron-Moore)