Polls on Chavez Range from Huge Victory to Dead Heat; Foe Rosales Hits Lavish Spending on Leftist Causes

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Byline: Kelly Hearn, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez heads into tomorrow's election with some polls showing a victory margin of more than 30 percent while others show a dead heat for the fiery leftist who calls President Bush the devil.

His conservative rival, Manuel Rosales, has managed to unite a fragmented opposition and made inroads into Mr. Chavez's base by attacking the president's lavish spending on leftist causes throughout Latin America and his support for Cuba's Fidel Castro.

"Let's not forget that we are facing the very devil," Mr. Chavez said in one of his final speeches before campaigning officially ended. "On Dec. 3, we face at the ballot box the imperialist government of the United States of America. That is our real adversary."

A state-funded poll by the Evans/McDonough Co. Wednesday gave Mr. Chavez 57 percent of the vote, a 19-point lead. On Nov. 23 an Ipsos/Associated Press opinion poll said Mr. Chavez held a 32 percentage-point advantage.

But Penn, Schoen & Berland, another U.S.-based pollster, recently gave Mr. Chavez only 52 percent while reporting a strong 48 percent for Mr. Rosales. Another firm, ASKA Partners, has reported similar numbers.

"This is a very close race, with what appears to be an evenly divided electorate," said Douglas Schoen of Penn, Schoen & Berland.

Opposition leaders have attacked the credibility of state-sponsored pollsters and accused international news outlets of reporting polls that favor Mr. Chavez to the exclusion of others.

Diego Arrias, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, said the government has contracted "fly-by-night" polling companies. …