(CNN) -

The two men vying to lead Indonesia is a study in contrasts: a self-made furniture salesman who has sprang into contention for the country's top political job, and a former general with a long military history who projects a strongman image.

In the fourth election for the young Indonesian democracy, Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto are in contention to lead a country with a slowed economy and rising voter concerns about corruption in government.

One of them will become the head of the most populous Muslim nation for the next five years when voters make their choice on July 9.

Joko "Jokowi" Widodo

Commonly known by his nickname "Jokowi," Widodo, 53, has been compared to the 2008 vintage of Barack Obama in part for his charisma and focus on change, and also because he represents a break from the political establishment.

Styling himself as a man of the people, Widodo eschews business suits for checkered shirts with his sleeves rolled up.

As a self-made businessman turned Jakarta governor, Widodo would be the first president without a connection to the military or the country's traditional elite.

"In order to resolve problems in Indonesia related to rule of law and fighting corruption, it can only be done by a new figure, not by someone who's been taken hostage by the past," Widodo told CNN.

Much like Obama's sprightly first campaign, Widodo relies heavily on his personal history and his image as an outsider. That appeal helped Widodo charge ahead in opinion polls earlier this year, when he appeared to be a virtual lock for the presidency.

But much of his lead has eroded following smear campaigns suggesting that he is of Chinese descent or even a Christian -- a deal breaker for many in this Muslim-majority nation.

The attacks have sidetracked his campaign and prompted Widodo to release evidence of his upbringing and photos of his haj pilgrimages to Mecca.

The smear campaigns have "forced Jokowi on the defensive on issues of his personal identity," instead of being able to put up a progressive vision for the country, said Douglas Ramage, an analyst with Bower Group Asia, based in Jakarta.

Born in the central Java city of Surakarta, Widodo grew up in a slum on the banks of the Anyar River. His family lived in illegally-built shacks, in which they were evicted by the government.

This background has helped his appeal among the country's poor.

"Jokowi is very popular among farmers and the common people," said Hamdi Muluk, a professor at Indonesia University who specializes in political psychology. "His image is that he is part of the people."

Widodo worked in his family's furniture business before starting his own export company, which he made a huge success.

In 2005, he was elected mayor of Surakarta and became known for his spontaneous visits to slums, which drew media attention, and unannounced drop-ins at government offices to catch under-performing workers.

He rose to become Jakarta governor in 2012, where he piloted new healthcare and education programs. But critics say Widodo is too inexperienced and hasn't finished his work in Jakarta after only 18 months in the governor's office. Several major projects, including a new railway, remain behind schedule.

Widodo's policy platform tends to be grounded by his own experience as a businessman. He speaks on the campaign trail about the difficulty of licensing and regulations, and the need to simplify the bureaucracy to help businesses succeed.

Widodo says to help Indonesia's economy, the government has to tackle corruption.

"We will issue a decree related to strengthening a bureaucracy that is clean and always there to serve," he said. "This way, we can attract more investment to Indonesia and consequently create more jobs."

Prabowo Subianto

Prabowo Subianto has framed himself as the strong, decisive leader, calling for more nationalistic policies.

In a nod to both his military background and his Muslim faith, Prabowo styles himself in a khaki military-style shirt and fez, much like his former father-in-law, Suharto, the country's second president.

A hulking presence, Prabowo even arrived to campaign events mounted on a Lusitano horse -- a famed breed used in dressage.