In a historic first, Josefina Vazquez Mota was chosen on Sunday to be the presidential candidate for Mexico’s National Action Party (PAN). Vazquez Mota’s primary win makes her the first woman in Mexico’s history to be chosen to run for president by one of the country’s three main parties. The road to Los Pinos, the Mexican equivalent of the White House, will be a difficult one.

The lineup is now set. Currently leading in the polls is Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) candidate Pena Nieto. With the PRI party, however, comes uncertainty regarding its return to power, the party’s 71-year hold on the country’s leadership still fresh in the memories of many. Leading the conservative-right PAN party, Vazquez Mota will also be up against Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the candidate from the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD). While she currently trails PRI’s Nieto by nearly 20 points in the polls, Vazquez Mota’s nomination is likely to tighten the race.

The three leading candidates are competing to replace President Felipe Calderon, whose term in office expires in December 2012.

Numerous issues will assume a prominent place in the campaign, not the least of which is Mexico’s continued fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. To date, nearly 50,000 people have died—the majority participants in criminal activities—in fights between criminal organizations and against the government and innocent citizens. As the leader of Calderon’s incumbent party, Vazquez Mota will have to stand up against those who criticize Calderon’s efforts and who seek to use them to paint the National Action Party in a negative light. As of Spring 2011, however, 83 percent of Mexicans continued to support the use of the Mexican army to fight drug traffickers, a figure that has been nearly constant in recent years. Other issues such as jobs, poverty, the curbing of the excessive powers of monopolies and unions, rule of law, and energy reform will also figure prominently in the race.

As an economist by education, former Minister of Education and Social Development, and former congresswoman, Vazquez Mota boasts an impressive resume. Receiving 55 percent of the vote in the primary, it’s clear that the newest presidential candidate has won the hearts of her party; now, she must win those of the people.

Critical for U.S.–Mexican relations will be the selection of a president who fights to keep Mexico on the democratic track, advances a reform agenda that makes government more transparent and accountable, builds public trust and confidence, advances economic freedom, and stands ready to work closely with the U.S. on a wide range of trade, border, and security issues. At first glance, Vazquez Mota, the most conservative of the three candidates, appears to be the best of the bunch.