France’s would-be presidents rally in Paris days before vote

France's would-be presidents rally in Paris days before vote

PARIS — As France’s unpredictable presidential campaign nears its finish with no clear front-runner, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen hope to rally big crowds in Paris with their rival visions for Europe’s future.

Meanwhile, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, enjoying a late poll surge, is campaigning on a barge Monday floating through the canals of Paris. And conservative candidate Francois Fillon is taking his tough-on-security campaign to the southern French city of Nice, which was scarred by a deadly truck attack last year that killed 86 people.

The race is being watched internationally as an important gauge of populist sentiment, and the outcome is increasingly uncertain just six days before Sunday’s first round vote.

Le Pen’s nationalist rhetoric and Melenchon’s anti-globalization campaign have resonated with French voters sick of the status quo. Macron, meanwhile, is painting himself as an anti-establishment figure seeking to bury the traditional left-right spectrum that has governed France for decades.

The top two vote-getters Sunday of the 11 candidates on the ballot advance to the May 7 presidential runoff. The latest polls suggest that Le Pen, Macron, Melenchon and Fillon all have a chance of reaching the runoff — and as many as a third of voters remain undecided.

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon insisted Monday that he, too, remains a contender.

“Things are evolving,” he said on Europe-1 radio.

The Socialists’ campaign has suffered from internal divisions and Socialist President Francois Hollande’s dismal image — he’s so unpopular that he declined to seek a second term.

Macron, a former investment banker well connected in the business world, fended off questions Monday about his elitist image on BFM television.

“The money I earned in my life, I earned it. I have not been given gifts,” he said.

He accused rivals of pandering to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and tried to distance himself from Fillon, whose austerity-focused campaign has been damaged by accusations that he misused taxpayer money to pay his wife and children for government jobs that they allegedly did not perform. French investigators are probing the case.

Fillon denies wrongdoing and is focusing instead on security issues that resonate with many voters after two years of deadly attacks across the country. French voters will cast their ballots under a state of emergency that’s been repeatedly extended as new violence has hit.

Macron and Le Pen are holding their last big rallies in the Paris region later Monday.

Angela Charlton, The Associated Press

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