Leftist former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has kicked off his campaign for next year's presidential election.

Mr. Lopez Obrador opened his campaign Thursday in the northern Baja, California city of La Paz. He pledged to spur the economy and fight poverty by closing the gap between the rich and poor.

The candidate also planned campaign stop in the northern border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali.

The popular 51-year-old leads public opinion polls ahead of the July, 2006 presidential race. Much of his popularity is in the capital, where he resigned as mayor two weeks ago to pursue the presidency.

President Vicente Fox is prevented from running for office again by Mexico's constitution, which limits the presidency to a single six-year term.