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Rousseff lead widens to 15 points in Brazil race

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian ruling party candidate Dilma Rousseff widened her comfortable lead in a poll ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff election as the campaign focus shifted back to the booming economy.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (L- in red) and ruling Workers' Party's presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff (R- in red) greet supporters during a rally in Rio de Janeiro October 24, 2010. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

Dilma Rousseff’s support among voters jumped by 5 percentage points to 51.9 percent in the Sensus poll released on Wednesday, while the opposition’s Jose Serra slumped to 36.7 percent from 41.8 percent in the previous poll on October 20.

The 15-point lead is Rousseff’s biggest in any poll since she just failed to clinch a first round vote on October 3.

It is the latest poll to show that Rousseff, who is backed by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has recovered from a corruption scandal involving a former aide and voter doubts over her stance on abortion and her faith in God.

Rousseff, a career civil servant and former leftist militant, has benefited from pushing the focus of the campaign back to Brazil’s economic successes under Lula, her wildly popular mentor and former boss.

“The emotional debate of values has lost steam, there’s a more rational focus on the economy again,” Clesio Andrade, head of the National Transport Confederation, which commissioned the poll, told a news conference in the capital Brasilia.

Robust economic growth under Lula has boosted salaries and jobs, and helped pull over 20 million people out of poverty since he took office in 2003.

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Former Sao Paulo state governor Serra had gained on Rousseff after the first round as his re-energized campaign hammered her on abortion and corruption scandals.


But many voters seem to have tired of Serra’s message.

“The attacks were excessive,” Sensus chief Ricardo Guedes told reporters, noting that Serra’s rejection rate in the poll jumped to its highest level since the campaign began in April.

Serra and his centrist opposition PSDB party have expressed doubt on the polls’ accuracy, noting that they overestimate Rousseff’s lead in the first round and claiming that some polling firms, including Sensus, are biased.

“The polls are very, very unreliable. And we know there are others that are bought, such as Vox Populi and Sensus which work for the government,” Serra said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

Rousseff’s rebound suggests that only a surprise such as a major scandal directly linking her to corruption could stop her from becoming the first woman to lead Brazil.

Datafolha, Brazil’s most respected polling institute, released a poll on Tuesday night showing Rousseff holding steady with an 11-point lead over the former Sao Paulo state governor.

Friday’s debate on TV Globo, which has the country’s highest viewer ratings, could be Serra’s last chance for an all-out attack on Rousseff, though the debates generally have had little immediate impact on the campaign.

When considering just valid votes, or likely voters -- which excludes blank and void votes as there are on election days -- the Sensus poll showed Rousseff would win Sunday’s election with 58.6 percent of votes to Serra’s 41.4 percent.

Commissioned by Brazil’s National Transport Confederation, the Sensus survey polled 2,000 people between October 23-25 and has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

Writing by Stuart Grudgings and Raymond Colitt; Editing by Todd Benson and David Storey