President Mauricio Macri's Cambiemos (Let's Change) coalition suffered a heavy defeat Sunday in elections held in Cordoba province, the country's second most-populous district, as Peronist Governor Juan Schiaretti secured a clear victory.
Schiaretti, running under the Hacemos por Córdoba banner, led comfortably after 98 percent of the vote had been counted, claiming 53.97 percent of ballots cast in his bid for re-election.
Macri's Cambiemos coalition was divided between rival candidates in the provincial elections after a schism pitted two candidates against each other. Mario Negri, who had Macri's endorsement, took 17.78 percent, while ex-Cordoba City mayor Ramón Mestre 10.94 percent of the vote.Peronists also took the mayoralty of the city of Córdoba for the first time since 1974.
Supporters greeted the strong showing with chants against Macri earlier Sunday.
In his victory speech, Schiaretti – a Justicialist Party (PJ) heavyweight and founding member of the Alternative Federal grouping – said his victory indicated the importance of constructing a "Republican Peronism" at a national level.
He observed that the winning margin was "the biggest in history since the return of democracy."
"We are part of the federal, democratic and republican Peronism. We are convinced that there will be no republic in Argentina without Peronism and that there will be no future for Peronism if it is not republican," he declared.
Schiaretti will be seconded by his new vice-governor Manuel Calvo (current secretary of communications and connectivity).
The 69-year-old previously served as governor of Córdoba between 2007 and 2011, before returning to the post in 2015.
The contest in an electoral district of 2.8 million voters – some 8.7 percent of the national electorate – had generated particular interest as Macri's success in the same province led to his victory in the 2015 presidential ballot.
The first round of presidential elections arrives in late October, with the president under pressure over a misfiring economy, with just six months to go before ballots are cast. President Macri has implemented a series of unpopular austerity policies to try to restore stability in the face of soaring inflation, huge debt obligations and a currency crisis.
The measures came in exchange for a US$56-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, requested during last year's currency crisis.