As Mexicans prepare to choose a new president one month from today, the election has turned into a referendum of sorts on President Felipe Calderon's war on the drug cartels, an effort that some Mexicans applaud as long overdue and others blame for escalating violence in the country.

The primary question for the three leading candidates seeking to succeed Calderon is whether they would continue to use the military to confront the cartels, as Calderon has since he launched a U.S.-backed crackdown on the drug-trafficking networks in 2006, or pursue a different strategy, experts say.

The candidates have yet to offer concrete proposals about how they would reduce cartel-related violence, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 50,000 people and emerged as the issue of overwhelming concern for Mexicans living on both sides of the border...

The economy, job creation and privatization of the national oil industry are all major issues in the race. But they have been overshadowed by drug violence, said Christopher Wilson, an associate with the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

"Certainly, there is a lot of concern in border states about the amount of drugs crossing through, and there are family ties that people have to a lot of border communities on the Mexican side of the border, so there is a natural concern for security on that side of the border as well," Wilson said.

All three candidates have promised to reduce drug violence, but they differ on how they would go about it, Wilson said.

Read more: