This central European country of 22 million, which threw off dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in a bloody revolt in 1989, may be poised to bring back former communist party leaders in Nov. 30 elections. The leftists, now members of the Social Democratic Party, are capitalizing on fears about the economic crisis as well as a longing Cold War-era stability.
"This is not a change of government, not a traditional switch from right to left," said Mircea Geoana, a former foreign minister and leader of the Social Democracy Party. "We are speaking about a revolution into how the Romanian modern state should operate."
Geoana advocates spreading wealth to poorer people in villages and small towns, where agriculture hasn't changed since the 19th century. He believes in taxing the rich - though he offers no specifics - and in doubling the minimum wage.
His populist message has pushed his party ahead in the polls. The Social Democrats leapt ahead in one poll this week after the country's pro-Western leaders initially ignored, and then downplayed, the economic crisis, saying it would not affect Romania. Geoana says people should be braced for the worst.
"It's going to be tough. We'll have to fasten the seat belts for at least for 12 to 18 months to be realistic," he told The Associated Press during an interview at the sumptuous 19th century villa that serves as his party headquarters. "If we use this crisis as an opportunity to get our act together, we might be seeing Romania stronger."
The poll released Monday gives the Social Democrats 35.4 percent of the vote when pitted against the pro-Western Democratic Liberal Party, with 31.5 percent. The INSOMAR poll, which had a margin of error of 1.5 percent, interviewed 12,494 people between Nov. 21-23.
In three polls carried out in October, the Social Democrats were in second place.
"The party managed to swing votes from other leading parties and also from the undecided," said political analyst Cristian Parvulescu. "The party is considered the one that offers social protection."
The leftists appeared to rise in the polls after Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu failed to warn Romanians they might suffer in the world economic crisis. Soon after, several major employers slowed production. Thousands of jobs are in jeopardy. A recession looms.
Pro-Western parties have led Romania since 2004, when voters dumped the former communists following a series of corruption scandals. That has been somewhat forgotten in this election, with many voters yearning for the safety net that the ex-communists offered.
With his impeccable English, well cut suits, affable demeanor and elegant wife, Geoana, a former ambassador to the United States, is far from the epitome of a stodgy, Soviet-style leader.
But that suave elegance has often failed to impress the party stalwarts that once characterized the communist leadership. Ion Iliescu, a former president, once called Geoana "a blockhead" during 2004 elections. The name has stuck.
Associated Press Writer Alina Wolfe Murray contributed to this story.