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Sarkozy, Hollande scramble for votes

France's presidential rivals scrambled on Tuesday to seduce nearly a fifth of the electorate that voted...

World

France's presidential rivals scrambled on Tuesday to seduce nearly a fifth of the electorate that voted for far right anti-immigration crusader Marine Le Pen, voicing sympathy for voters' distress in the economic crisis.

Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, fighting for his political life after being beaten into second place in Sunday's first round, declared that no issues were taboo and hammered away at rallies and in interviews on Le Pen's themes of fear of immigration, insecurity, Islam and unregulated trade.

His Socialist rival, Francois Hollande, who topped the poll and is favorite to win a May 6 runoff against Sarkozy, said National Front voters had expressed "social anger" and vowed to defend them from "financial globalization and a failing Europe".

A cartoon in the daily Le Monde parodying Romeo and Juliette depicted Hollande and Sarkozy stabbing each other in the back while offering bouquets in French national colors and serenading Le Pen voters looking down from a balcony.

"Do you know these guys?" one hard-hatted Le Pen supporter in overalls asks. "Never seen them before," his mate replies.

The first opinion poll to be taken since Sunday's first round by the Ifop institute showed Hollande 10 points ahead of Sarkozy with 55 percent of voting intentions for the runoff.
Sarkozy used each campaign stop to address Le Pen's six million voters while accusing the left of talking down to them.

"I want to talk to the little people, to the foot soldiers, to people in the countryside, to pensioners," the president told one rally, saying the National Front leader had drawn a "crisis vote" in "the part of France that is suffering".

"You are feeling afraid," Sarkozy said, calling Le Pen's record 18 percent score a wake-up call. "There is nothing reprehensible about this vote," he added.

While describing himself as a secular republican, he invoked the heritage of the French monarchy and the Roman Catholic church in a play for nationalist votes.

Hollande ascribed Le Pen's unprecedented score to despair among "a suffering electorate of office workers, artisans, and blue-collar workers who are really feeling abandoned", as well as farmers struggling to make ends meet.

Those voters, some of whom came from the left, had wanted to punish not just Sarkozy but also the political system, Europe and globalization, he said.

The two rivals for the second round, which will determine who leads Europe's number two economy, a nuclear power and an activist U.N. Security Council member, are adopting sharply contrasting tactics to woo potential swing voters.

DIVISIVE ISSUES

Sarkozy played up divisive issues such as "real work" versus "assistance", curbing public displays of Islam and reducing immigration, while Hollande tried to project himself as a calm, unifying presidential figure.

"Nicolas Sarkozy is constantly trying to create cleavages... when what people expect from a president, especially in times of crisis, is to be a unifier," said veteran political scientist Roland Cayrol of the Centre for Studies and Analysis.

"By contrast, Francois Hollande, who is the heir to a political family that invented the fundamental cleavage of the class struggle, has adopted the posture of a unifier."

Le Pen poured scorn on both main candidates, saying that her supporters had voted for her ideas, and not out of protest or distress at the crisis. She made clear her next objective was to win seats in parliament in June and lead "the real opposition".

Based on Sunday's vote, the National Front could reach the second round in some 345 constituencies, more than half of the 577 seats, potentially splitting the right-wing vote in a major threat to Sarkozy's UMP party.

 

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