THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Decedmber 02, 2006
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.
He also said international news outlets have been "resistant to quote serious pollsters" that show Mr. Rosales gaining support.
Many say a surprise showing by Mr. Rosales could cause political disturbances.
On Wednesday the U.S. Embassy advised Americans to limit their travel and stock up on food, water and medications in the event of postelection protests.
"In light of recent history of street disturbances occasioned by political activity, and current levels of anti-U.S. Government sentiment on the part of the Venezuelan government, American citizens in Venezuela should maintain a high level of personal security awareness, especially during the election period," the embassy stated.
A win for Mr. Chavez would further embolden his so-called "Bolivarian" revolution, which he claims has taken hold in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba and elsewhere. Ecuador joined those ranks in recent days when Rafael Correa, a leftist colleague of Mr. Chavez, was elected president.
U.S. officials say Mr. Chavez is a destabilizing force in the region, pursuing what they say is an unjustified military buildup, largely with Russian-made planes and weapons.