Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) left it uncertain for so long whether he would seek reelection to a sixth term that when he announced last fall he was running, many wondered if he had the energy and the desire for another term. But a recent statewide poll shows that Pell has improved voters' impressions of him and has eroded support for challenger Rep. Claudine Schneider (R), although the race remains competitive.

"Any doubts people had about fire in his belly are taken care of," Anita Dunn, press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said of Pell, who has the support of 51 percent of those surveyed in the Brown University poll, compared to 36 percent for Schneider. In a February matchup, Pell led 47 to 40 percent.

Schneider's campaign is neither impressed with Pell's showing nor distressed with her numbers in the poll. "For a 30-year incumbent, 51 percent is pretty low," said Schneider spokeswoman Josie Martin. Taking into account the poll's 5-percentage-point margin of error and that it was conducted in the wake of Pell's well-publicized kickoff campaign swing, Martin said, "We think she is holding her own and staying close to him."

When asked who provided stronger leadership, 35 percent said Pell, 33 percent said Schneider. In the earlier poll, Schneider was seen as providing stronger leadership by 36 percent of voters, while 26 percent gave Pell higher marks.

Schneider is viewed as doing a better job on the environment 36 to 30 percent and caring more about people 31 to 26 percent. In the February poll, she held a 23-percentage-point advantage over Pell on the environment and a 22-point lead in terms of caring about people. Pell, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is seen as more knowledgeable about foreign affairs 79 to 9 percent.