MEXICO CITY — Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party has changed its leadership at a time when the party is lagging badly in polls on the July 1 presidential race.

The new acting president, Rene Juarez, is a seasoned party operator and former governor. He told the Radio Formula station Thursday that "this is a critical, difficult, complex moment" for the PRI, as the party known in Spanish.

Juarez's appointment Wednesday may be a bid to ease discontent within the party's hard core over the designation of Jose Antonio Meade as presidential candidate. Meade is not a member of the party.

Juarez said Wednesday he will focus on talking with the party's base. "There is no doubt that I come from the PRI's very womb, something I am profoundly proud of," Juarez said.

Meade was third in a poll published Wednesday by the newspaper Reforma, 31 points behind front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The face-to-face poll had a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

That poll also found that 61 percent of the 1,200 people surveyed thought President Enrique Pena Nieto was intervening in the election, something Mexican presidents are not supposed to do, though many have.

Pena Nieto has made recent speeches urging people not to vote out of anger, and has condemned "populist and irresponsible policies," something many took as a jab at the left-leaning Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador has promised to review or reverse some government reforms instituted by Pena Nieto, including the opening of the oil industry and education reforms.

Pena Nieto said Wednesday he was staying out of electoral politics.

"I see that I don't see anything," the president said when asked how he saw things.

In last month's chapter of the Reforma polling series, 59 percent of those interviewed said their most important goal in the election is to get the PRI out of office.