Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, the front-runner in Russia's presidential election campaign, is trying to broaden his appeal by luring rivals into a coalition against President Boris Yeltsin.

The proposed coalition would bring together the formidable organization of the Communist Party machine and the charisma of high-profile leaders such as retired Gen. Alexander Lebed and former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi."Many people will be looking for an alliance with us," Zyuganov told a news conference in Moscow this week. "Alone, nobody will succeed. Only whoever gets the most allies and supporters can win."

The presidential election, scheduled for June 16, is developing into a two-man race between Zyuganov and Yeltsin. Both candidates are trying to forge their own broad coalition of political forces to overcome their lack of personal popularity among large sections of the Russian population.

Yeltsin has already begun to gather support from several reformist and centrist leaders. Even some of his long-time critics, such as former Prime Minister and economic reformer Yegor Gaidar, have grudgingly acknowledged that they'll probably be forced to support Yeltsin if the election becomes a showdown between the Communists and him.

Opinion polls show that Zyuganov is the election front-runner, supported by about 24 percent of Russians, while Yeltsin is favored by only 11 percent.

But with the advantages of incumbency and the enormous power of the Kremlin behind him, Yeltsin's support is expected to grow steadily in the next four months.

The two top finishers in the June 16 election - probably Zyuganov and Yeltsin - will go into a special runoff in July.

Political experts are divided on the likely outcome of this race. A recent survey of Russian political analysts conducted by a Moscow newspaper found that 46 were predicting a Yeltsin victory, while 43 were forecasting a Communist triumph.

Early polls have identified Zyuganov as the favorite. In a straight two-way runoff between Yeltsin and Zyuganov, Yeltsin would get 27 percent of the votes and Zyuganov 39 percent, according to a February poll.

But the polls also have found that Yeltsin's support is growing. He has begun to campaign aggressively, getting rid of unpopular cabinet ministers, launching a crackdown on corruption and seeking a peace plan to end the Chechnya war.

Yeltsin has tried to fuel his re-election campaign with headline-grabbing populist measures, including promises to provide billions of dollars to pensioners and workers who have suffered from delayed wages and postponed pension payments.

His latest populist gesture is his threat to take protectionist action against the wave of foreign consumer goods that have flooded into Russia in recent years. Officials have threatened to raise tariffs on foreign cars, alcohol and other goods.

Zyuganov is anxious to move far beyond his traditional left-wing support. He described his potential coalition partners as "centrist and right-of-center parties."

He said he already has held discussions with Rutskoi and "found mutual understanding in our evaluation of current events." Similar discussions are planned with Lebed in the next few days, he said.

"The Communists are desperately trying to build new alliances," political scientist William Smirnov said. "They don't have much chance to win without this. They're trying to portray Zyuganov as a leader who can unite different forces and move in the mainstream."

Zyuganov's strategists are aware that the Kremlin will try to portray the Communist chief as an orthodox Marxist who would drag Russia back to the repressions of the Soviet era.

In a speech Wednesday, Yeltsin predicted that a Communist victory would lead to "the terror of arbitrary rule, lawlessness and mass repressions."

To neutralize this attack, Zyuganov's strategists are avoiding Communist labels, preferring to call their coalition the "People's Patriotic Bloc."

Asked about his Communist philosophy at the news conference this week, Zyuganov was bland and reassuring. The word "communism", he said, could be literally interpreted as "common interest" - a philosophy that exists in many of the world's religions.

Another example of "common interest" comes from the Russian czars, who would request the approval of their families before selling any land, he said.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)