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New York's U.S. Senate race is a dead heat.

Two percentage points separate Robert Abrams and Alfonse M. D'Amato, according to a poll prepared for The Buffalo News by Political/Media Research Inc.

Because the poll of 833 regular voters statewide has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, Abrams could be leading by as much as 5.5 points or losing by 1.5.

Some 44 percent of the voters surveyed Monday and Tuesday said they backed Abrams, the state's Democratic attorney general.

Meanwhile, 42 percent said they would vote for D'Amato, the incumbent Republican senator.

And 14 percent said they were undecided.

The poll showed that D'Amato -- who was 15 points behind Abrams in a comparable poll in September -- has the momentum in the race.

Abrams, however, has every other advantage, said Del Ali, vice president of Political/Media Research Inc.

An unusually large number of voters don't know who to vote for yet, and undecided voters usually end up choosing the challenger rather than the incumbent.

"If a person is undecided until election day, that indicates he or she has a problem with the status quo," Ali explained.

Abrams also stands to benefit from an expected landslide for the Democratic presidential ticket in New York State and his party's 1 million-voter edge in voter registrations over the Republicans.

For that reason, "a heavier turnout will help Abrams," Ali said.

The Buffalo News survey was the tightest of four public polls conducted since Oct. 23. When those polls are averaged, Abrams leads D'Amato 43.5 percent to 38.25 percent.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, said Abrams' lead might not mean much. More than half the voters surveyed in a recent Marist poll said they were not strongly allied with either candidate.

"It's a very fluid situation," Miringoff said.

Nevertheless, the Buffalo News poll showed that the shape of this race has changed little since the last comparable poll was released Oct. 9.

Abrams still enjoys a substantial lead -- 25 percentage points -- in New York City, while D'Amato has a 12-point edge in his home turf of Long Island.

D'Amato also maintains strong leads throughout all parts of upstate New York, including a six-point lead in the Buffalo area. That is down from eight points on Oct. 9.

The new poll showed that the nattering, negative campaigns of both candidates have done nothing to make either more popular. In fact, the percentage of voters who view the candidates positively has been falling consistently for the past year.

The survey indicated that 28 percent of New York State voters now view D'Amato positively, while 38 percent view him negatively.

Abrams was viewed favorably by 31 percent of those questioned and unfavorably by 33 percent.

The News has commissioned six polls in the Senate race in the past year, and this is the first time that more voters viewed Abrams negatively than positively.

Abrams' image has suffered from the "relentless pounding" the candidate suffered in D'Amato's countless campaign commercials, said John Burke, Abrams' campaign manager.

Officials at both campaigns said the poll reflected other public and private surveys in recent days.

"This poll, like the others, shows a real swing in Sen. D'Amato's favor," said Zenia Mucha, his campaign spokesman. "We've always said this will happen. We think we will win decisively."

While D'Amato has been able to grind down Abrams' lead since the Sept. 15 primary, "he's begun to hit granite," Burke said.

"You're going to see a bottoming-out of D'Amato's numbers," he added.

In other campaign developments Friday:

Abrams appeared before an enthusiastic group of several hundred unionized health-care workers in Manhattan, where Gov. Cuomo voiced his support for Abrams, Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton and the state's Jobs Bond Act.

Cuomo referred to the Reagan-Bush years as "4,319 days in the desert," and said: "When I hear you chant: 'Four more days,' I look at it as a prayer, and I say: 'Thank God.' "

D'Amato campaigned in Rochester. At a rally at the Federal Building, he decried the fact that Abrams claimed a tax deduction for an office in his Fifth Avenue apartment.

The New York Daily News endorsed Abrams, bringing the total number of papers to back the Democrat to 15.

The New York Times, Newsday, the Syracuse Post-Standard, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and The Buffalo News also have endorsed Abrams.

D'Amato's daily newspaper endorsements to date have come from the New York Post, the Syracuse Herald-Journal and the Ogdensburg Journal.

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