ACAPULCO, Mexico – A gubernatorial candidate who joined Mexico's main leftist political party less than a year ago appeared headed for victory Monday in the drug-cartel battleground state of Guerrero.
Angel Aguirre quickly distanced himself from the party, however, saying that he would form a government that transcends party lines.
With 98.7 percent of the vote counted, Aguirre, of the Democratic Revolution Party, had received 56 percent of the vote, compared with 42.6 percent for rival Manuel Anorve of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, according to the election board for Guerrero state, which is home to the Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco.
Aguirre joined Democratic Revolution, or the PRD, only in late August after 30 years as a member of the Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for seven decades as the single dominant party until it lost the presidency in 2000.
"No party will have any quota" of posts in his Cabinet, Aguirre told the Televisa television network. "We are going to choose people based on which women and men of Guerrero can make the greatest contribution."
Aguirre said he would focus on social programs and job creation, and made little mention of the drug-related violence that plagues the state.
Anorve also claimed victory, but was trailing by 13 percentage points.
The PRD's only gubernatorial victories in Mexico's 31 states over the past two years have come by backing alliance candidates with weak ties to the party, or former PRI members.
Outgoing Guerrero Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca won in 2005 on the PRD ticket but largely distanced himself from the party once in office.
Aguirre, who served as interim governor for the PRI in the 1990s, could do the same.
George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, predicted that Aguirre could back Mexico state Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto, a favorite for the PRI presidential nomination next year.
"In his race to succeed (President Felipe) Calderon, Pena Nieto faces a win-win situation in Guerrero," Grayson wrote in an analysis.
Still, Aguirre supporters celebrated Monday, waving yellow banners and chanting "Don't fail us!"
The vote followed an acrimonious campaign between the two former party allies and second-cousins. The first of six gubernatorial elections this year in Mexico, it sets the stage for the 2012 presidential election.
The PRI had hoped that a win in Guerrero would give it momentum as it seeks to regain the presidency, which it controlled for 71 years before losing it in 2000 to Calderon's National Action Party.
But the PRI's hopes were damaged after National Action, trailing badly in the polls, threw its support behind Aguirre. Such uncomfortable alliances between the conservative PAN and the leftist PRD helped defeat the PRI in three gubernatorial races last year.
During the campaign, the PRD demanded an investigation into Anorve's finances after the newspaper Reforma published allegations from a protected witness who said in court documents that the PRI candidate had received millions in cash from drug gangs.
Anorve angrily denied those allegations. The federal Attorney General's Office dismissed the significance of the documents, saying in a statement that secret witness testimony has no value unless backed by concrete evidence. The statement stressed that there is no criminal investigation against Anorve.
Guerrero, a state of 3.3 million people, is a hotspot of the soaring drug killings that have marred Calderon's presidency.
Earlier this month, the bodies of 15 men, all but one of them headless, were found on a street outside a shopping center in Acapulco, a coveted drug-trafficking zone and the site of turf battles between the cartels.
There were 1,137 drug-related homicides in Guerrero in 2010, surpassing the 879 in 2009.
(This version CORRECTS that Aguirre did formally join the party). )