June 19, 2015 / 7:03 PM / 2 years ago

Argentina's Macri picks market-friendly senator as running mate

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s presidential contender Mauricio Macri on Friday picked a business-friendly senator with middle class appeal as his running mate, reinforcing his center-right challenge to the ruling party’s ticket.

Gabriela Michetti of the PRO party speaks after acknowledging her loss in the primary elections for Buenos Aires' Mayor next to Hernan Lombardi (L), vice-mayor candidate candidate, in Buenos Aires April 26, 2015. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Senator Gabriela Michetti will join Macri in his campaign against front-runner Daniel Scioli, governor of Buenos Aires province. Scioli is allied with outgoing leader Cristina Fernandez, whose heavy-handed trade and currency controls have slowed Latin America’s No. 3 economy to a crawl.

By picking Michetti, Macri confirmed his image as the candidate most likely to break with Fernandez’s policies, which have scared off investment in Argentina’s vast but barely developed shale oil fields. Scioli had already picked one of Fernandez’s closest advisors as his vice presidential candidate.

The senator got her start in politics in 2003, years after being left in a wheelchair by an auto accident. A charismatic campaigner, the 50-year-old Michetti is popular among middle class voters and may attract support from outside Macri’s urban professional base.

Michetti has been a stalwart of Macri’s Republican Proposal (PRO) party during her 12 years in politics.

“Gabriela loyally represents all the values we have fought for,” Macri said.

Her candidacy might also help him with voters offended by comments he made last year that were criticized as being sexist.

In a radio show on the issue of catcalling, Macri defended the practice, saying “deep down all women like compliments.”

“Some say ‘no, that’s offensive’, but I don’t believe any of that ... Even if you say something rude, like ‘What a cute ass you have’… it’s all good,” Macri said.

Fernandez is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term in October. She is expected to try to remain influential after leaving the presidency in December, and may even run for the top job again in four years.

Scioli is from Fernandez’s Front for Victory party, although he has positioned himself as more orthodox than her on economic matters. Scioli’s choice of the president’s key legal advisor Carlos Zannini as his running mate was panned by markets as a sign that his investment-friendly leanings may be constrained by Fernandez.

Argentine bond prices fell on the announcement of Zannini’s candidacy for the vice presidency.

“Argentina is headed towards a challenging and difficult transition,” said Eurasia Group analyst Daniel Kerner, adding that Scioli is likely to resist pressure from Fernandez to continue her policies and would be better positioned than Macri to manage the shift to a new government.

“The risk that he fails, however, is not trivial,” Kerner said.

The Michetti announcement was widely expected by markets and did not move bond prices on Friday.

Additional reporting by Nicolas Misculin and Maximiliano Rizzi; Editing by Andrew Hay

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