Peña Nieto aides reject the notion that his government would be authoritarian, because much of the presidencys powers have shifted to the states in recent years, and because they say he is by nature a consensus-seeking politician.
Peña Nieto says that his top priorities would be to carry out long-delayed health care, labor, tax and energy reforms, including a greater opening of the state-owned Pemex oil monopoly to the private sector, as well as to reduce the drug-related violence that has left about 50,000 dead over the past five years.
He says that he would double the size of Mexicos Federal Polices elite units and without abandoning the war on drugs focus on homicides, kidnappings and human trafficking.
We will separate common crimes from drug trafficking, says Silvia Hernandez, a top PRI politician. Much of the violence we see today comes from bands that are not tied to drug trafficking.
Peña Nietos aides hope that, if wins by a landslide, his job would be made much easier because he would be the first Mexican president in more than a decade to enjoy a majority in Congress.
There would be much bigger chances of approving all pending reforms, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, the likely head of the PRI congressional bloc, told me in an interview, citing that most of the countrys reforms have been stuck in Congress because of lack of agreement between the three major parties.
But critics point out that a PRI government would not pass any significant reforms, because it would not risk its alliances with the countrys biggest and best-organized labor unions. Whats worst, old habits never die, and that PRI would not be able to shed its penchant for corruption, critics say.
For nearly a century, the PRI has been the champion of crony capitalism its sweet deals with friendly business barons were the source of most of todays biggest Mexican fortunes vote-buying, electoral fraud, and a combination of bribery and intimidation schemes to control the media, they say.
While Peña Nietos team includes some new faces, most of them belong to the old PRI, they say. Its no coincidence that an old joke about the PRIs shady governance methods, said to have originated during the partys first presidents after the Mexican Revolution, says that no Mexican general can resist a cannonade of $50,000.
Peña Nieto would engage in heavy borrowing, give out massive subsidies to buy votes, and leave the country badly indebted, his critics say.
They would use the public budget to perpetuate themselves in power, Julio Castellanos, a congressman of President Felipe Calderons National Action Party (PAN), told me. They are not seeking to return to power for the next six years, but for the remainder of the 21st Century, creating a citizens dependence on government subsidies.
Castellanos added that this is not speculation, but a fact. Its what the PRI has been doing in virtually all of the 22 states where it governs.
My opinion: While the election will be much closer than the polls suggest, Peña Nieto is likely to win. His PRI party is the best organized, he has poured many times more money than his rivals into television ads, and many Mexicans seem willing to live with tolerable levels of corruption in exchange for less violence and the promise of greater prosperity.
Its a dangerous bargain, because in the long run corruption breeds instability and paves the way for messianic leaders. But elections are not about the long run.
A Peña Nieto victory would probably not turn Mexico into the perfect dictatorship that it was during much of the 20th Century, but it could turn it into a more imperfect democracy than it has been over the past decade.