Argentina's political power couple echo Clintons

Still, there are indications that Argentina's strong expansion — five consecutive years of roughly 8% annual growth rates — is beginning to hit limits. This year, as the unprecedented husband-to-wife presidential handoff neared, the government ate into its fiscal surplus by sharply increasing social spending on new pensions and public works. If elected, Cristina Kirchner, who lacks experience as an executive, will inherit double-digit inflation and energy shortages that will be difficult to resolve without modifying her husband's policies. Another test is the need to conclude a deal with the Paris Club of creditor nations to reschedule payments on $6 billion in Argentine bonds, included in the default.

The Peronist movement that both Kirchners joined in the 1970s always has been a difficult-to-categorize amalgam of left- and right-wing policies. Juan Peron, a former Army officer elected president in 1946, was an acknowledged admirer of Italy's fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, but pursued pro-labor policies favoring Argentina's poor, the descamisados or "shirtless ones."

So ideology is not a bar to significant course corrections if needed to maintain political power. Kirchner, however, has given no sign of any intention to change course, and she clearly shares her husband's view of the need for strong state action to compensate for the market's failings. Her ubiquitous campaign posters carry an inoffensive, and imprecise, promise: "We know what is missing. We know how to get it done."

Mercedes Marco del Pont, a Yale-educated senate candidate, says Kirchner would largely continue the current state-centric economic policies but would "intervene more intelligently in the market." A member of Kirchner's "Front for Victory" coalition, Marco del Pont praises her intelligence and principles. "She has very strong convictions about what needs to be done in Argentina," she says.

Above-the-fray campaign style

Since declaring for the presidency in July, candidate Kirchner has shared with voters few details of her plans. She grants almost no interviews to local journalists, a tactic she has copied from her husband. (She also declined to be interviewed for this story.) Unlike Clinton, who has weathered a blizzard of debates with other potential Democratic nominees and spent months in the early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, Kirchner was tapped as the Front for Victory nominee by her husband.

Last week her above-the-fray campaign style was on display at a rally in Vicente Lopez on the capital's outskirts. Several hundred people filled the narrow street outside the Santa Rosa hospital to see Kirchner accept a small bouquet of flowers and greet them with a warm: "Gracias, mis amores." (Thank you, my loved ones.)

The candidate spoke from the podium for 12 minutes and offered no specific policy comments. "We need to focus on the things that unite us so we can move the country forward. … There's still a lot to be done. We have to work very hard for those who don't have jobs and for those who don't have homes," she said to applause.

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