BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine President Mauricio Macri's business-friendly coalition is poised to win an important Senate seat in two weeks, opinion polls showed on Sunday, potentially damaging former populist President Cristina Fernandez's attempted comeback.
Esteban Bullrich, formerly Macri's education minister, received 33.9 percent of voter intention in the contest for Buenos Aires province, home to about 40 percent of voters, according to a poll by consultancy Management & Fit seen by Reuters. Fernandez earned 29.6 percent of voter intention.
Another poll by Poliarquia Consultores published in La Nacion newspaper showed Bullrich earning 37.7 percent of voter intention, compared to 35.2 percent for second-place Fernandez. A loss would diminish her chances of returning to the presidency in 2019.
The Oct. 22 legislative elections will be closely watched by investors as a signal of Argentines' appetite to return to Fernandez's interventionist policies, and as an indication of Macri's ability to carry out the rest of his agenda.
"The one who is weak is the Peronist party, the one who is expanding and getting more influence is the government," Poliarquia director Alejandro Catterberg told Reuters. "Cristina is only really present in Buenos Aires."
While Macri's "Let's Change" coalition will not obtain a majority in either house of Congress, a strong performance would help in negotiations with opposition lawmakers over reforms to Argentina's tax code and capital markets regulations.
The winner receives two seats for their coalition while the second-place finisher receives one, meaning Fernandez will likely enter the Senate either way. Moderate Peronist Sergio Massa is polling a distant third, the surveys showed.
Since taking office in December 2015, Macri has introduced a number of reforms economists say were necessary to stabilize Latin America's No. 3 economy, including allowing the peso currency to float and cutting subsidies for energy consumption. Fernandez has criticized the measures during the campaign.
The opinion polls show Bullrich has gained momentum since narrowly losing an Aug. 13 primary. Government data shows the economy improving in recent months, while Macri's nationwide approval rating has risen to its highest level since early 2016 at 46.5 percent, according to Management & Fit.
Its poll of 1,000 respondents in Buenos Aires was conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 3, and has a 3.1 percent margin of error. Poliarquia consulted 1,130 respondents between Oct. 3 and Oct. 6. It has a 2.97 percent margin of error.
(Reporting by Caroline Stauffer and Nicolas Misculin; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen and Jorge Otaola; editing by Grant McCool)