Morning update— 9:50 a.m.

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The IFE Web site now shows results from 96% of precincts and 37.8 million votes, with Calderón still ahead by 396,000 votes: Calderon 36.4, Lopez Obrador 35.4, Madrazo 21.4. It looks like fewer than 40 million votes were cast.

Madrazo obviously benefited from late-reporting returns from rural areas, while there appears to have been no late great surge for López Obrador. The vote for Congress: PAN 34, PRD 29, PRI 27. So Calderón ran only slightly ahead of his party, while López Obrador ran more so. It seems unlikely in the extreme that the final 4 percent of the votes can produce the 1 percent margin that López Obrador needs to overtake Calderón.

The decisions of Consulta Mitofsky and other exit pollsters not to project a winner have been entirely vindicated. So has the decision of IFE not to announce a winner from the quick count. Some pollsters have criticized IFE for the quick count procedure, in which they project a winner from a sample of something like 7,600 precincts of the total of 131,000. IFE has answered that criticism by refusing to announce a winner when the result was too narrow. It seems likely that the quick count showed Calderón ahead by a narrow margin. If so, and if that becomes known, that will help to dampen cries from the left that the election was stolen or manipulated by IFE. IFE's restraint in not declaring Calderón the winner (if he was indeed ahead in the quick count), despite the fact that he was the candidate of the president's party, should strengthen confidence in Mexico's election system. Confidence that, in my judgment, it deserves.

I assume that the official canvass beginning Wednesday will declare Calderón the winner by about 1 percent of the vote. López Obrador and the PRD may try to discredit the result, but absent proof of irregularities much greater than have so far been alleged they will have a hard time succeeding. Nevertheless, while this is a defeat for the left—following recent defeats for the left in Peru and Colombia—it can hardly be said to be an overwhelming victory for the center-right (I leave aside the argument that some friends in Mexico make that PAN should be considered a party of the center-left). If 65 percent of the voters didn't vote for López Obrador, 64 percent didn't vote for Calderón. Vicente Fox's election-eve proposal that Mexico should, like other Latin American nations (Brazil and, I believe, Chile are examples), have a runoff election if no candidate gets a majority, sounds like a good idea. Last night López Obrador spoke eloquently about serving all the people, and Calderón said something along the same lines. López Obrador does have a large constituency, including many who have been left behind as Mexico grows and whose prospects for the future are dismal. I can see in my mind voters whom I interviewed—men in their 50s with no job and no prospects, hardworking women with leather-creased faces who get by on very little—and can imagine the disappointment they feel (or will feel) when it becomes apparent that López Obrador will not be president for the next six years. And many will feel that they have been cheated by the rich—the people who lived behind high walls or in gated communities, with multiple servants but otherwise insulated from the everyday life of the Mexico of makeshift houses running up and down the ravines or on the endless grid blocks of the east side of Mexico City.

Calderón, in my view, needs to reach out visibly to such people, with whom he seems to have established no emotional connection. He is not as vivid or commanding a figure as Vicente Fox and does not have much in the way of a common touch. He might consider supporting something like the programs Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula da Silva have put in place in Brazil, providing small payments to the working poor (I don't recall the details precisely). This might even be able to pass in Congress, where PRD and PRI have blocked most of Fox's major initiatives. Calderon's victory means that Mexico will not depart in any major way from the economic path it is on: NAFTA will not be renegotiated, businesses will not be expropriated, taxes on the rich will not be ratcheted up to economy-killing levels. But there is room for something in the way of a center-left initiative.

For the United States, Calderón's apparent victory is certainly welcome. We cannot be sure of what exactly López Obrador would have done in office. And we will not be entirely happy with Calderón's policies—as we haven't been with Fox's. Mexico's economy has been growing roughly in tandem with ours. We would be better off if it grew faster. But Mexico's birthrate has been declining sharply, and we have reason to hope that the Mexican economy will generate more jobs and that the economic forces that have been fueling Mexican immigration to the United States will weaken. I will be watching from afar as the votes are officially counted—and after.