By FABIOLA SANCHEZ, Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The opposition candidate challenging President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela's presidential ballot said Monday that he trusts the results of an opinion poll that indicates the two men are running head-to-head.
Henrique Capriles, a state governor who was chosen in a February opposition primary, said he has his own numbers but that the results of the poll by the firm Consultores 21 seem accurate.
"Personally, I believe in Consultores. I've been looking at Consultores' polls for many years," Capriles told The Associated Press.
The firm said last week that 46 percent of the Venezuelans it surveyed said they intend to vote for Chavez in the October election and 45 percent backed Capriles. It said 9 percent were undecided in the poll, which questioned about 2,000 people.
Saul Cabrera, the polling firm's vice president, said the survey had an error margin of more than 2 percentage points and was financed by a group of clients including private businesses.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, an ally of the socialist president, discounted the poll. He said it seemed to have been conducted "in a restaurant in Las Mercedes," a posh Caracas neighborhood.
"It's impossible, and they know it, for there to be a technical tie between Comandante Chavez and the candidate of the bourgeoisie," Cabello told an outdoor gathering of Chavez's supporters.
He cited other polls touted by the government that say Chavez holds a sizable lead. He claimed the president has a "20-point advantage."
Such disputes over poll results appear likely to heat up in the months ahead as Capriles attempts to unseat a president who has been in office more than 13 years.
Capriles said at a news conference Monday that he plans to continue making door-to-door visits to neighborhoods despite a March 4 incident in which gunfire rang out while he was visiting a traditionally pro-Chavez neighborhood. A young man who supports Capriles was injured in the shooting.
Capriles strongly criticized Chavez for saying publicly that the government had received word of a plan to attack the opposition candidate, yet didn't release any evidence of such a plot.
"Where is the information? What's the aim of that? To generate fear?" Capriles said.
Capriles also criticized the president for traveling to Cuba to undergo cancer treatment instead of using a Venezuelan hospital.
"The message you're sending when you have to go away (is) that you can't be attended to in your own country. It's a terrible, negative message. You're the person who has the greatest responsibility," Capriles said.
He said that if elected, he would build a better health system "so that any Venezuelan, no matter the position, whether head of state ... or electrician," will have access to quality care.
Chavez has dismissed such criticisms. He said Saturday as he left on his latest trip to Cuba that although Venezuela has excellent hospitals, he is undergoing radiation therapy in Havana this week because that was where his cancer was diagnosed in June and where he has undergone three operations, including two surgeries that removed tumors.
The president has expressed optimism he will overcome cancer and win another six-year term in the Oct. 7 elections.
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