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Ballot Burning in Argentina Compounds Scioli's Problems

FILE - Daniel Scioli, governor of Buenos Aires province, gestures during a ceremony at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, September 30, 2014.

Argentine presidential candidate Daniel Scioli emerged as front-runner in primary elections this month but has struggled to build momentum, hampered by floods in his home province and the burning of ballots in a local election won by a candidate from his party.

Club-wielding mounted police broke up protests Monday night in the tiny northern province of Tucuman, where witnesses said ballots from 42 voting stations were burned after Sunday's governor's election.

The declared winner of the contested vote was from Scioli's Front for Victory party, headed by outgoing President Cristina Fernandez. Opposition presidential candidate Mauricio Macri, the business-friendly mayor of Buenos Aires, is calling for a recount.

Scioli is facing pressure from his party to back designated winner Juan Manzur, but is apparently eager to distance himself from the scandal. He told reporters Tuesday that the dispute should be settled by provincial election authorities, and he urged Macri to avoid making incendiary remarks.

The scandal is the latest headache for Scioli as he struggles to build support among moderate voters concerned about his ties to leftist Fernandez.

At stake in the October 25 presidential vote is the direction Latin America's No. 3 economy will take after eight years of interventionist policies under Fernandez. Macri has vowed to scrap currency and trade restrictions, while Scioli has spoken of a more gradual shift toward open-market policies.

After winning the August 9 primaries, Scioli faced criticism for traveling to Italy while parts of Buenos Aires province, where he is governor, were under water. Flash floods wrecked grain crops and forced thousands from their homes.

He hurried back to tour flooded areas, but the Macri camp portrayed him as disengaged.

"Scioli intended to go after swing voters after the primaries, but these events have prevented him from doing that," said political analyst Ignacio Labaqui.

Scioli ran unopposed in the Front for Victory primary on August 9, winning 38.4 percent of the vote. Three potential nominees ran in the primary of Macri's Let's Change alliance, which as a whole won 30 percent, most going to Macri himself.

With voters allowed to cross party lines, the primary was seen as a dry run for the October election. But Scioli's popularity has been stagnant since the primary, and not high enough to avoid a November runoff election.

"He wanted to gain momentum, but Scioli's numbers have neither risen nor fallen since the primary," said Mariel Fornoni, analyst at polling company Management & Fit. "Tucuman will not help him. Whether it hurts him remains to be seen."