Bolsonaro-Lula presidential race down to the wire in Brazil, poll shows

BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazil's presidential race has drawn about even, a new poll showed on Saturday, a day before the tense runoff vote between right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and his leftist challenger Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Lula has 51.1% of the valid votes and Bolsonaro has 48.9%, a difference that is equal to the margin of error of the MDA poll commissioned by the transport sector lobby CNT.

Most polls suggest Lula is the slight favorite to come back for a third term, capping a remarkable political return after his jailing on graft convictions that were overturned. But Bolsonaro outperformed opinion polls in the first-round vote on Oct. 2, and many analysts say the election could go either way.

An AtlasIntel poll of voters recruited online, however, showed Lula still commands a 6 percentage-point lead, which it attributed to the votes of supporters of centrist Senator Simone Tebet who came third in the first round of the election.

Bolsonaro wrapped his campaign in the key state of Minas Gerais and led a motorbike rally by supporters. Lula walked with thousands of backers on one of Sao Paulo's main avenues after telling foreign reporters his rival was not fit to govern.

The deeply polarizing figures attacked each other's character and record in a televised debate on Friday night. They accused each other of lying and refused repeatedly to answer each other's questions.

Bolsonaro opened the debate by denying reports that he might unpeg the minimum wage from inflation, announcing instead he would raise it to 1,400 reais ($260) a month if re-elected, a move that is not in his government's 2023 budget.

Still, with their campaigns focusing on swaying crucial undecided votes, analysts suggested the president gained little ground in the debate to win a race that polls had shown roughly stable for weeks since Lula led the first-round voting by 5 percentage points.

Riding a wave of conservative voter sentiment, that result was better for Bolsonaro than most polls had shown, giving him a boost of momentum to start the month, but the past two weeks of the campaign have presented headwinds.

On Sunday, one of Bolsonaro's allies opened fire on federal police officers coming to arrest him. A week earlier Bolsonaro had to defend himself from attack ads after he told an anecdote about meeting Venezuelan migrant girls in suggestive terms.

In their first head-to-head debate this month, Lula blasted Bolsonaro's handling of a pandemic in which nearly 700,000 Brazilians have died, while Bolsonaro focused on the graft scandals that tarnished the reputation of Lula's Workers Party.

On Friday night, both candidates returned repeatedly to Lula's two terms as president from 2003 to 2010, when high commodity prices helped to boost the economy and combat poverty. Lula vowed to revive those boom times, while Bolsonaro suggested current social programs are more effective.

MDA was the most accurate of the major in-person pollsters in the first-round vote on Oct. 2, although all of them underestimated support for Bolsonaro.

Of the total votes, including blank votes and the undecided, Lula has 47% of voter support and Bolsonaro has 45%, up from 42% in the previous poll two weeks ago.

MDA interviewed 2,002 voters between Oct. 26-28.

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter, Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle; Editing by William Mallard, Diane Craft and Chris Reese)