BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Several major exit polls suggested that first lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner won the presidency Sunday by a large enough margin to avoid a runoff. She would be the first woman in Argentina elected to the post.

Official results were due later Sunday in the race between the heavily favored Fernandez and 13 rivals. Fernandez’s husband, President Nestor Kirchner, is credited with Argentina’s rebound from a 2001 economic collapse, and much of her support is due to his popularity.

She has been compared to U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who like her is a lawyer and senator who soldiered alongside a husband as he rose from small-state governor to his nation’s presidency.

Her closest challengers, former lawmaker Elisa Carrio and former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna, were trying to force her into a Nov. 25 runoff. She needed 40 percent of the vote, with a lead of more than 10 percent over her nearest rival, to win outright.

Five independent television networks and at least one private radio station reported their exit polling indicated Fernandez has easily won a first-round victory. Three of the television networks released their numbers, giving Fernandez between 42 and 46 percent of the vote, with advantages of between 19 and 23 percentage points over Carrio.

But no opposition candidates conceded defeat, and some said there had been unprecedented fraud. A Lavagna spokesman said the candidate would file a judicial complaint about a “systematic lack of ballots” marked with his name. Candidate Vilma Ripoll denounced “ballot stealing.”

Electoral officials denied any irregularities, but a judge extended voting by an hour in the capital after many of Argentina’s 12,700 polling stations opened late. A representative of the ruling party was arrested on suspicion of trying to vote twice.

At Fernandez’s campaign headquarters, supporters jumped up and down and embraced one another.

“I’m so excited,” screamed Maria Isabel Francia, a 50-year-old street merchant. “Cristina is going to pull us out of poverty!”

The next president, who begins a four-year term on Dec. 10, faces challenges including high inflation, an energy shortage and rampant crime. And the legacy of the economic crisis can still be seen in high unemployment and widespread poverty in a country that a century ago ranked among the world’s 10 richest.

Fernandez refused to debate and spent much of the campaign abroad in photo-ops with world leaders. Her chic European dresses and designer bags drew comparisons with “Evita” Peron, another fashion-conscious and politically influential Argentine first lady.

Fernandez has rejected such comparisons.

“I don’t want to be compared with Hillary Clinton or with Evita Peron, or with anybody,” she said recently. “There’s nothing better than being yourself.”

The first couple voted early in the province of Santa Cruz, where he was a three-term governor, before heading back to the capital to await the outcome. Fernandez told the crowd of reporters that voting was especially joyful for her because she grew up under the 1976-83 dictatorship.

“I’m part of a generation that grew up in a country in which nobody could say anything, so we value this in a very special way,” she said.

Voters were also filling dozens of House and Senate seats and nine governorships. Exit polls indicated Vice President Daniel Scioli won the governorship of Buenos Aires province, the country’s second most powerful post.

Argentina’s 27.1 million registered voters are required by law to cast ballots, and one couple showed up to vote early in a car festooned with “just married” signs. The bride wore a white wedding dress and the groom a black tuxedo as they filled out their ballots.


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