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Two voters in Argentina share what they're looking at for the upcoming elections

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Argentina, this Sunday's presidential runoff is like no other in recent memory. A far-right libertarian has shaken up the race. He sports a chainsaw at rallies and pledges to radically slash state spending and ditch the national currency. And then there's the incumbent party's candidate, the current economy minister. He's still in the running even as Argentina's economy hits new lows and inflation soars. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the polls are too close to call.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Nicolas Reyes says it's time for a radical change.

NICOLAS REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Those in charge just don't get how angry people are," says the 20-year-old political science student. We found a quiet corner in the cafeteria at the University of La Matanza, where he comes to study. The place is packed with students chatting and sharing mate, Argentina's famous herbal tea drink. Some are trying to read.

REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Because of the crisis, Argentina's youth have to work just to be able to study," he says. "This is why Javier Milei is winning over so many young people," he adds. The far-right libertarian rails loudly against the status quo, building a loyal following through social media and rock-music-infused rallies, with a generation of young Argentines left out of the job market and staring at a future stuck in their parents homes.

REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Reyes says being a young conservative hasn't been easy, especially here in La Matanza, one of the 24 boroughs that make up what's called the conurbano.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

KAHN: This is the industrial and impoverished core of cities ringing the capital, Buenos Aires. It's long been a stronghold of the ruling Peronist party and stigmatized for its poverty, says Guillermo Galleano, who's 38 and runs an Instagram account called The Walking Conurbano (ph).

GUILLERMO GALLEANO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says, "don't underestimate the urbano. With nearly 12 million residents, about a quarter of the country's population and nearly a third of all voters, we elect the president." And although the Peronist candidate, Sergio Massa, easily won here in last month's primary elections, Javier Milei and his angry discourse has gained followers. That has Analia Boccello worried. I met her at a large park just outside the conurbano.

ANALIA BOCCELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It's pretty here. The bathrooms are clean. And most of all, it's free," she chuckles.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: The single mom and elementary school teacher strolls past couples dancing tango. Holding hands with her 11-year-old daughter, Muriel, she says it's a respite from the cramped, tiny house they share with their mom in La Matanza. She's voting for the current Peronist party's candidate, Sergio Massa, but not happily.

BOCCELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Look. I'm really frustrated. I'm 43 years old, and there are so many things I thought I would have achieved by now," she says, "especially after working so hard for so many years." But as bad as things are, she's really afraid they could get much worse if Milei wins.

BOCCELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Kids come to my classes hungry, in really bad shape. They're just steps from living on the streets," she says. "They couldn't survive if Milei makes his drastic cuts." But Nicolas Reyes, the 20-year-old university student, says he hopes Argentines don't listen to the fearmongering and vote for change. He says it makes no sense to keep doing the same thing that's clearly not working.

REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: And he adds, "that battle between the same old or change will be decided here in the conurbano." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, La Matanza, Argentina.

(SOUNDBITE OF OTTMAR LIEBERT'S "AUGUST MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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