If Iranian voters deny President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-election on Friday, it may be more a verdict on his economic performance than on his fierce rhetoric against the United States and Israel, his defense of Iran''s nuclear policy or his persistent questioning of the Holocaust.

Ahmadinejad, 53, grabbed 62 percent of the vote in the 2005 presidential poll, upsetting widespread predictions of victory for the seasoned former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

He swept to power with the backing of Iran''s devout poor, especially those in rural areas, who felt neglected by past governments and liked his promise to put oil wealth on the table of every family in a nation of over 70 million people.

Ahmadinejad has distributed loans, money and other help for local needs on his frequent provincial tours, but critics say his free-spending policies have fueled inflation and squandered windfall petrodollars without reducing unemployment.

Since he took power, prices of food, fuel and other basics have soared, hitting more than 15 million Iranian families who live on less than $600 a month, according to official figures.