The opposition candidate in Brazil's presidential election is narrowing the gap with his once heavily favored rival thanks to growing confidence after surviving a first-round ballot and barbs over abortion, analysts said Thursday.
In a new poll, centrist candidate Jose Serra is now in a statistical tie with Dilma Rousseff, hand-picked by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to succeed him.
"There is a higher probability that Dilma will win, but Serra is showing some real strength, a growing confidence after surviving the first round," said Carlos Lopes, a political analyst with Santafe Ideias in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. "At this point, it's hard to say who will win."
According to the Sensus polling institute, Rousseff now has 46.8 percent voter approval while Serra has 42.7 percent. With a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, that puts them in a statistical tie.
The poll released Thursday interviewed 2,000 people in person in 136 counties across Brazil from Monday through Wednesday.
An Ibope poll published Thursday shows Rousseff leading 49 percent to 43 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. That poll interviewed 3,010 people across the nation, also Monday through Wednesday.
In the first-round vote on Oct. 3, Rousseff took 46.9 percent of the votes _ but fell short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Serra received 32.6 percent. Voters return to the polls Oct. 31 to determine who will become Brazil's next leader.
Serra, 68, is a former mayor and governor of Sao Paulo who was badly defeated by Silva in the 2002 election. Rousseff, 62, is a career bureaucrat trying to become Brazil's first female president on the ruling Workers Party ticket.
Serra's rising poll numbers come after a week of jabs between him and Rousseff over abortion, which is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if a woman's life is in danger.
Serra has hammered away at what he says is Rousseff's changing position on abortion: In past interviews before she was running for president, Rousseff questioned the law and said the issue is one of public health _ which has been interpreted by religious voters as her favoring the legalization of abortion, analysts say.
Despite the latest polls, some political observers said the race is still Rousseff's to win.
A research note from the Washington-based Eurasia Group emphasized that an average of all the polls recently released has Rousseff leading by 5 to 7 percentage points.
"We continue to think that in order to win the election, Serra needs to benefit from a new 'political fact' that will hurt Rousseff further, such as additional allegations of corruption or sustained strategic blunders from the Rousseff campaign," the report stated.
Associated Press Writer Bradley Brooks in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.