Cheered by joyous hometown crowds in a festival of balloons, sunshine and rock music, Boris Yeltsin topped off his come-from-behind presidential campaign Friday by promising "we'll surely win" if his supporters stick together.
Nothing could have contrasted more with the scene here in February, when Yeltsin announced his re-election bid in a rambling, confused speech to a sullen audience of dignitaries.On Friday, crowds turned out to collect free Yeltsin hats and T-shirts and hold aloft posters echoing Yeltsin's warnings that his Communist rival, Gennady Zyuganov, would ratchet the nation back to Communist-era poverty. The posters showed Zyuganov with the ominous legend, "Use Your Last Chance to Buy Food."
Friday was the last day of campaigning allowed before Sunday's vote, which most Russians see as a choice between Yeltsin's reforms and the Soviet past, symbolized by Zyuganov.
While polls in recent weeks have put Yeltsin ahead, one released Friday had him essentially tied with Zyuganov. Pollster Nuzgar Betaneli gave Zyuganov 35.6 percent of voter support, compared to 32.7 percent for Yeltsin. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
However, four months of frenetic campaigning have given Yeltsin the momentum over Zyuganov, the one-time front-runner.
Unless one of the 10 candidates gets a majority Sunday, the election will be decided in a runoff in early July between the top two vote-getters.
Russian newspapers ran front-page banner headlines endorsing their favorite candidate and made passionate appeals fitting to the highly emotional race, Russia's first post-Soviet presidential election.
Yeltsin's upbeat appearance in the Ural Mountains city where he was once Communist Party boss contrasted sharply with his last visit in February, when he launched his campaign with a disjointed speech.