Argentine power couple draws Clinton comparisons

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BUENOS AIRES, Oct 23 (Reuters) Argentina's first lady is almost certain to be elected president this weekend and take over from her husband, crowning the so-called Clintons of the South as the ultimate power couple.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is the clear front-runner in the presidential election on Sunday, helped by her husband Nestor Kirchner's success in guiding Argentina out of economic crisis and into a boom during his four years in power.

The couple's political partnership is similar in many ways to that of former US President Bill Clinton and his wife, senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a comparison the Kirchners generally embrace.

Just as Hillary Clinton took an active role in policy when her husband was first elected, Fernandez has been Kirchner's top advisor since he took office in 2003.

''They were always a political project, a two-headed monster forever marching together, as if in 2003 they both assumed the presidency and implied that both were to govern the country,'' says political analyst Jose Angel di Mauro.

Kirchner is very popular but instead of seeking a second term, he stepped aside and anointed his wife as his succesor.

Polls show the strategy has worked. She has a huge lead over her nearest rivals with voters hoping she will extend the economic good times that marked his presidency.

Both Fernandez and Clinton met their husbands in law school, have been first ladies and senators, and now aim to be their country's first elected female president.

Bill Clinton and Nestor Kirchner went from small governships to the presidency. For both couples, approaching politics as a team has been key.

''We think the same way and have the same convictions about life and politics, as an instrument for changing society. We used to want to change the world together, but today we have taken on a more modest project: changing Argentina,'' Fernandez told biographer Olga Wornat.

Fernandez says she respects Hillary Clinton, but notes that her own Senate career began long before her husband was president.

''I admire her because she is an intelligent and contemporary woman,'' Fernandez has said of Clinton. ''She knew now to create an important place and image for herself, not independently of her husband, but co-existing with him.'' The couples are friendly: the Kirchners recently lunched with Bill Clinton on a visit to New York and Hillary has since called for a closer relationship with Argentina.

But there are differences too. The Kirchners are leftists and are close to Venezuela's firebrand President Hugo Chavez while Hillary Clinton is wary of the anti-US leader.

Domestically, the Kirchners draw their support from the poor, while the Clintons have a more middle-class appeal.

And Fernandez is steps ahead in her quest to lead her country.

She was anointed presidential candidate by her husband without a primary and is a safe bet to win, while Hillary Clinton is still fighting just for her party's nomination.

Reuters GL DB2147

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