MADRID, Spain Spaniards mourned the death of a small-town Socialist politician in a shooting blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA, transforming what was supposed to be a quiet day before Sunday's general election into a day of grief.
It was not known whether there would be a groundswell of sympathy benefiting Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Sunday's election or a backlash against him for having negotiated in vain with ETA while conservatives wanted to crush the militant group.
Until Friday's shooting, Zapatero's party had a 4-percentage-point lead over the conservative Popular Party in three polls released last weekend and Monday the last day such surveys could be published. The campaign had been dominated by a cooling economy and concerns over illegal immigration.
Isaias Carrasco was shot three times in his car as he prepared to go to his job as a clerk in a highway toll booth. A wake for the 43-year-old father of three was being held Saturday at the town hall in Mondragon, and the funeral was taking place in the evening.
In other Basque cities, like Bilbao and San Sebastian, thousands silently gathered outside town halls and to remember Carrasco and condemn ETA, which has fought since the late 1960s for an independent Basque homeland.
Carrasco's eldest daughter appealed Saturday for massive turnout in the general election.
"I call on those who want to show solidarity with my father and with our pain to vote en masse Sunday and tell the murderers that we are not going to take a single step backward," said Sandra Carrasco, 20. "That is what I want: that everyone vote."
Carrasco served on the town council from 2003-2007 and was one of just a handful of non-nationalist members in a town where pro-independence sentiment is fierce. Then, he had a bodyguard. But Carrasco failed to win re-election last year, and turned down an offer to keep the bodyguard.
His killing prompted Spain's political parties to call off the remainder of their rallies leading up to Friday midnight, when the campaign was to come to an official end. In Spain, rallies are banned the day before an election.
Although the scale of bloodshed is much less this time, many Spaniards cannot help but think how the killing is reminiscent of their last election. In March 2004, Islamic militants detonated 10 bombs on packed commuter trains in Madrid, three days before the general election, killing 191 people and leaving more than 1,800 wounded.
Pro-U.S. conservatives in power at the time blamed ETA even as evidence mounted that Islamic militants were to blame. Spaniards saw this as a desperate bid to deflect perceptions that the government's support for Iraq made this country a target for al-Qaida, and the conservatives lost the election.
"Just like four years ago, our date with the polls is stained with blood through the vile action of terrorism," Spain's top-selling newspaper, El Pais, said in a front-page editorial.
That ordeal left Spain deeply polarized and the political divisions remain to this day.
As recently as last week, in a pre-election debate, Zapatero accused the conservatives of deceiving the country by blaming ETA for the train bombings. His rival to be prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, hit back saying Zapatero won the election because of the Iraq war and the bombings and was trying to use the tragedy to win another one.
This time the parties tried to put up a united front. They joined all other parties in Parliament in issuing a statement Friday night condemning the latest ETA attack and vowing to defeat the group.
But Rajoy's Popular Party complained that the other parties rejected its request to add a clause condemning the idea of negotiating with ETA clearly a dig at Zapatero.
ETA declared what it called a permanent cease-fire in March 2006 and said it wanted a negotiated settlement to a conflict in which it has killed more than 800 people.
But the group classified as a terrorist organization by Spain, the European Union and the United States grew frustrated with a lack of concessions in ensuing peace talks with Zapatero's government. It formally called off the truce in June 2007.
Associated Press Writer Harold Heckle in Mondragon, Spain, contributed to this report.