It's All Down to Tomatoes in Argentina's Elections

Tomatoes could be the deciding factor in Argentina's presidential elections Oct. 28, and not in the form of flying objects hurled at the candidates.

As one local comedian put it, it would make more economic sense to toss caviar at candidates. And that's just the point.

Tomatoes in this country are normally priced between 1.50-2.00 pesos (50-70 U.S. cents) per kilo. But in the last couple of months the cost has risen by about seven times the usual price.

Argentines, who do not live by meat alone, are livid about price hikes on their favorite salad and pasta sauce ingredient.

Starting Oct. 8 consumer groups have implemented a weeklong boycott of tomatoes. Some supermarket chains say they will not purchase tomatoes wholesale as a form of support of the protest.

Now Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the current first lady who is expected to be elected president in three weeks, suddenly finds herself slipping in the polls, with some blaming the tomato factor for the shift.

Sitting President Nestor Kirchner could have tried for a second term but instead decided to allow his wife, a powerful senator and longtime political figure, to take up the candidacy. Political pundits here talk about the power erosion in the second term of office as being the reason for the husband-wife switch.

Polls show that de Kirchner has between 35 and 44 percent of the votes with center-left candidates Elisa Carrio and Roberto Lavagna battling for second place with 12 to 18 percent.

In Argentine presidential elections, one needs 45 percent, or 40 percent and a 10 percent differential, to win outright. Given that de Kirchner seems to have a wide margin of victory, she needs only to reach 40 percent of the vote to win in the first round. Most observers agree that if the election goes to a second round, anything is possible. De Kirchner will then face a hard fight to win since her opponent will centralize the opposition vote.

"Cristina has a big hurdle of about 30 percent of the people we polled who said they would never vote for a woman," said Jorge Giaccobe, one of Argentina's main pollsters, in a press conference attended by ABC News. "Most of those who said that are the older portion of the electorate, and one-third of them are, believe it or not, women. But this is a factor in the election, especially if it goes to a runoff."

An elderly woman at a vegetable stand in suburban Buenos Aires asked for one tomato and bitterly complained, "These Kirchners are responsible for my buying habits. I've never been so humiliated in all my life!"

Tomatoes aren't the only fruit or vegetable whose price has surged in recent months, but with a 500 to 700 percent rise they represent the costliest increase and thus have become a symbol of inflation. The elderly woman also asked for a half dozen green beans, a quarter kilo of dirty potatoes (if clean, they cost more) and one ear of corn.

Radio comedian Adrian Stoppleman told ABC News that in recent weeks he can't go a day without writing some material about tomatoes. Sample: "The tomato is a healthy food, except its price can make you sick!"

Or, "Instead of jewelry, people are taking their tomatoes to the pawn shop."

Argentina has had two huge economic collapses in the last two decades.

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