* Gov’t candidate takes significant lead for first time
* Rousseff boosted by strong economy, Lula’s popularity
* Lula’s role in her campaign seen helping (Adds CNI, analyst quotes, details)
BRASILIA, June 23 (Reuters) - Ruling party candidate Dilma Rousseff took a significant lead over her main rival in Brazil’s presidential race for the first time, gaining from a booming economy and the president’s lofty popularity, a poll showed on Wednesday.
Rousseff, the 62-year-old candidate of the center-left Workers’ Party, opened up a five-point lead over former Sao Paulo state governor Jose Serra, according to the Ibope survey commissioned by the National Industry Confederation.
Rousseff had 40 percent support in the survey taken from June 19-21, compared to Serra’s 35 percent.
The former chief of staff to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva appears to be benefiting from Brazil’s recent torrid economic growth, which reached 9 percent in the first quarter -- its fastest pace in at least 14 years.
Rafael Lucchesi, CNI’s director of operations, listed the reasons for Rousseff’s rise: “The economy, the popularity of the government, the popularity of the president, and his capacity to influence the electoral process.”
She had been even with Serra at 37 points in the last Ibope poll released on June 5, after closing a gap that reached as high as double digits in surveys taken last year.
Brazil’s presidential campaign does not kick off in earnest until next month following the conclusion of the World Cup, but Lula is already urging voters to make Rousseff the South American country’s first female leader.
Lula is forbidden from running for president again due to the constitution’s two-term limit. His government had an approval rating of 75 percent in Wednesday’s poll, while those who had a negative view of the administration totaled just 3 percent.
Analysts say Rousseff may extend her lead when the campaign intensifies next month as she is still relatively unknown among voters. An electoral alliance with the PMDB party, the largest in Congress, also gives her an advantage in TV campaign slots over the opposition.
“It’s significant because Serra had a whole lot of exposure on TV in the past two weeks,” Brasilia-based political analyst David Fleischer said of Rousseff’s lead in the Ibope poll.
“It’s sort of contrary to that. It’s not that she pulled way ahead but that he lost points.”
Serra has been criticized for making a slow start to his campaign and has yet to choose a running mate after his first choice declined and the allied DEM party was embroiled in a graft scandal.
Rousseff has pledged to secure economic stability and continue with key reforms, such as to the tax system, which business leaders complain is overly bureaucratic and costly.
Neither she nor Serra, a 68-year-old former health minister who is the centrist PSDB party’s candidate, are likely to depart much from Lula’s recipe of market-friendly policies combined with a strong economic role for the state. [ID:nRISKBR]
Serra’s strongest point of attack may be to compare his wide executive experience with Rousseff’s relative lack of leadership positions, analysts say. While Serra has run for president as well as governed Brazil’s financial capital Sao Paulo, Rousseff is running for her first elected post.
The survey polled 2002 people and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. Lula’s former environment minister, Marina Silva, who is also running for president on the Green Party ticket, was unchanged with 9 percent support. (Additional reporting and writing by Stuart Grudgings, Editing by Brian Winter)
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