In the run up to Colombia’s presidential election, Federico Gutiérrez, a right-wing candidate, is supported by a conservative alliance similar to the one that helped propel the current president to office.
But that is perhaps Mr. Gutiérrez’s biggest problem.
The presidential race has increasingly become a demand for a sharp break from what many Colombians consider President Ivan Duque’s failed policies, which have made him one of the most unpopular leaders in Colombia’s recent history.
The country is facing a raft of challenges. Armed group violence in rural areas has surged, chronic problems like poverty and inequality have deepened during the pandemic and mass anti-government protests last summer ended in accusations of serious human rights abuses against state security forces.
Mr. Gutiérrez, 47, who is widely known as Fico, has struggled to cast himself as a change from Mr. Duque, while still working to shore up the support he needs from the country’s right-wing base.
“It’s very difficult to walk that line,” said Arlene Tickner, a professor at Universidad de Rosario in Bogotá.
Mr. Gutiérrez, a civil engineer, was born into a middle class family in the country’s coffee-growing region and gained political prominence as the widely popular mayor of Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city and a conservative stronghold.
He has promised to increase foreign investment, boost economic growth, fight corruption, tighten security and improve the lives of poor people.
“What we have to do is work to get people out of poverty and provide them opportunities,” he told The New York Times.
Mr. Gutiérrez has managed to gain traction in part by positioning himself as a stable alternative to Gustavo Petro, a former rebel and longtime face of the opposition, who has held a steady lead in polls and is seeking to become the country’s first leftist president.
Mr. Gutiérrez has tried to stoke the fears of conservative Colombians worried about what a Petro presidency would mean, warning that “democracy is at risk.”
In a Twitter post alluding to Mr. Petro’s campaign slogan, “change for life,” Mr. Gutiérrez wrote, “Change cannot mean a leap into the void without a parachute.”
Mr. Gutiérrez has trailed Mr. Petro in polls, and his hold on second place has slipped in recent days as another right-wing candidate, Rodolfo Hernández, a businessman and populist, has surged. A runoff would be held next month among the top two finishers if a candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote.
Mr. Gutiérrez’s line of attack against Mr. Petro has resonated with voters like Juan Sebastián Rey, a 21-year-old political organizer in Medellín.
Electing Mr. Petro to the presidency, he said, would be “playing with the democracy of the country.”
Sofía Villamil and Julie Turkewitz contributed reporting from Bogotá.