Chavez successor leads opponent in Venezuela vote

Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez as Venezuela's interim president, has an 18 point lead over the opposition's Henrique Capriles ahead of mid-April elections, a polling firm said Tuesday.

The private Venezuelan pollster Hinterlaces said 53 percent of Venezuelans would vote for Maduro -- Chavez's vice president and hand-picked successor -- while 35 percent would vote for Capriles.

That's an even bigger lead for Maduro than in the last poll, published weeks before Chavez lost his two-year battle with cancer.

In that survey half of those questioned indicated they would vote for Maduro, compared to 36 percent for Capriles.

The youthful Capriles, governor of Miranda state, lost to Chavez in an October presidential election by 11 points -- a wide margin, but the best showing ever against the leftist leader.

On April 14, he will take on Maduro in snap elections called to replace Chavez.

Campaigning officially begins on April 2, but the candidates have already begun courting votes in a highly confrontational pre-campaign.