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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Three polls released on Monday showed a tighter Canadian election race than earlier in the campaign and pointed to the ruling Conservatives winning a minority government rather than the majority that sometimes had seemed to be in the cards.
Two of the surveys put the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals by 7 percentage points and another had them leading by only 5 points, compared with leads frequently of 10 or 15 points earlier in the campaign.
It still is a marked accomplishment that the Conservatives, which had sometimes trailed the Liberals before Parliament was dissolved on September 7, have consistently been in the lead in the campaign for the October 14 election.
But their lead no longer is anywhere near as comfortable.
"They're in a situation where they have to start changing people's minds again," former Liberal campaign official David Herle told CBC television.
An Ekos survey released on Monday night, covering Saturday through Monday, put the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals by 33 percent to 26 percent, with the leftist New Democratic Party (NDP) at 19 percent.
A Harris-Decima/Canadian Press poll put the Conservatives at 32 percent -- down 2 points from the day before, down 5 points in the space of three days and 4 points less than what they got in the 2006 election. The poll had the Liberals at 25 percent and the NDP at 21 percent.
Harris-Decima pollster Bruce Anderson said jitters about the economy were cutting into support for Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has advocated a steady hand with no dramatic moves.
A third survey, by Nanos, had the Conservatives at 34 percent, the Liberals at 29 percent and the NDP at 20.
It is possible to get a majority of seats with about 40 percent of the vote or, if there is a large gap over the nearest rival, with somewhere around 37 or 38 percent.
But that large gap has disappeared, now making another minority government the most likely outcome.
The Conservatives were elected in January 2006 with a minority of seats, and Harper said in September he needed a new electoral mandate.
Nanos polled Friday through Sunday, while Harris-Decima covered Thursday through Sunday.
Ekos surveyed 2,314 decided voters, with a 2-point margin of error 19 times out of 20. Harris-Decima interviewed 1,235 people with a 2.8-point margin of error and Nanos covered 1,027 committed voters with a 3.1-point margin.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by John O'Callaghan