UPDATE 3-Rousseff pulls away in Brazil runoff as vote nears

* Rousseff gaining momentum, helped by Lula’s popularity

* Datafolha poll gives Rousseff a 10-point lead

* Campaign shifts away from social issues, back to economy
(Adds analyst quote, details on Serra)

By Todd Benson and Raymond Colitt

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA, Oct 22 (BestGrowthStock) – Ruling party
candidate Dilma Rousseff is pulling away in Brazil’s
presidential race, gaining momentum as the campaign shifts from
social issues and back to the economic gains under her
political benefactor, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Rousseff extended her lead over opposition challenger Jose
Serra to 10 percentage points in an opinion poll for the Oct.
31 vote released on Friday. It was the third poll this week to
show her gaining ground after a rough few weeks in which a
re-energized Serra narrowed the gap.

“She has a big lead and a rising trajectory — that’s
difficult to reverse in just a week,” said Cristiano Noronha of
the Brasilia-based political consultancy Arko Advice.

The survey by polling firm Datafolha showed Rousseff with
50 percent of voter support compared to 40 percent for Serra,
according to Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, which commissioned
the poll. When considering just valid votes, which excludes
blank ballots, Rousseff held a 12-point lead with 56 percent to
Serra’s 44 percent.

Rousseff, the Workers’ Party candidate who is backed by the
hugely popular Lula, had 47 percent in the Datafolha poll on
Oct. 15, compared to 41 percent for Serra, a former Sao Paulo
state governor from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party.

The new Datafolha poll is likely to be met with unease
inside the Serra camp, which sought to discredit two other
recent polls showing Rousseff pulling ahead as politically
biased and unreliable.

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Full coverage of election [ID:nBRAZIL]

Election Top News page http://link.reuters.com/dux43p

Graphic on opinion polls http://r.reuters.com/vet88p

Special report on Rousseff http://link.reuters.com/fab25p

Political risks in Brazil [ID:nRISKBR]

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Rousseff, a 62-year-old career civil servant who has never
before run for office, fell just short of winning the election
outright in the first round of voting on Oct. 3. That was in
large part because of an unexpectedly strong showing by Green
Party candidate Marina Silva, who took 19 percent of the vote.

Rousseff, who served as energy minister and chief of staff
in the Lula government, had 47 percent of the vote in the first
round while Serra came away with 32.6 percent, forcing them
into the runoff.

The Workers’ Party emerged deflated from the first round
and struggled to shift the focus of the campaign away from a
corruption scandal involving a former aide to Rousseff as well
as her views on delicate social issues like abortion.

Serra, a seasoned politician who lost to Lula in the 2002
presidential election, seized the momentum and chipped away at
Rousseff’s lead by portraying her as an untested leader with
questionable ethics.

LULA LEADS THE WAY

The tide seemed to shift back in Rousseff’s favor after the
Green Party decided not to back a candidate in the runoff,
quashing Serra’s hopes for an endorsement that would help him
pick up swing voters who flocked to Silva in the first round.

But the biggest factor has been Lula, who has campaigned
aggressively for Rousseff in recent weeks, helping to resurrect
her campaign. The Datafolha poll showed Lula’s approval rating
at a whopping 82 percent, the highest level for any Brazilian
leader since democracy was restored in 1985.

Rousseff also has made progress in shifting the campaign
back to her central message — that she is the best candidate
to continue Lula’s mix of market-friendly policies and social
programs that have lifted more than 20 million people out of
poverty since 2003 and made Brazil one of the world’s
fastest-growing emerging economies.

The Datafolha poll, which has a margin of error of 2
percentage points, also showed that the pool of undecided
voters has shrunk to 6 percent, suggesting that Serra’s chances
of staging a comeback are dwindling.

Another potential setback for Serra is a Nov. 2 holiday
that makes election day part of a long weekend. Serra’s biggest
constituency are wealthy Brazilians who are more likely to
travel over the holiday weekend outside their voting districts,
where they are not allowed to cast ballots.

The Serra camp is so concerned about the timing of the
election on a holiday weekend that it has unleashed an Internet
campaign urging supporters to stay home and vote.
(Writing by Todd Benson; Editing by Eric Beech)

UPDATE 3-Rousseff pulls away in Brazil runoff as vote nears