Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez maintained a 15 percentage-point lead over his opposition rival Henrique Capriles in a closely watched poll published on Monday, less than three months ahead of an Oct. 7 presidential election. The June survey by respected local pollster Datanalisis showed 46.1 percent of voters backing Chavez and 30.8 percent for Capriles, while the rest were undecided or did not respond.
Chavez is seeking a new six-year term at the helm of South America's biggest oil exporter, but he has been battling cancer for a year and not been able to match the intensive campaigning of his younger opponent, a basketball-loving former state governor. The 57-year-old socialist remains popular in his 14th year in power thanks to huge state spending on social programs and the enduring emotional connection that even his fiercest critics concede he shares with the country's poor majority.
Capriles, 40, has been drawing big crowds while projecting an image of youth and energy. Some recent polls have shown him narrowing the gap with Chavez -- one had them neck and neck -- but the new poll on Monday showed Chavez keeping a solid lead. His 15.3 percentage-point advantage was slightly narrower than the 15.9 percent gap recorded by Datanalisis in May, but still within the margin of error of 2.7 percentage points. (Reuters)