Presidential hopeful Macron hunts for France's rural vote

France is furiously debating who out of Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron won "the battle of Whirlpool" — the remarkable clash of styles on Wednesday when both presidential candidates stumped for blue-collar votes at a closure-threatened appliance factory in northern France.

This explains in part why polls show Le Pen would lose the second round by a large margin, 40 percent to 60 percent for Macron, if it were held today.

French presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron signs autographs during a campaign visit to Sarcelles, north of Paris, Thursday, April 27, 2017.

The candidates' starkly differing visions on France's future are at the heart of the election runoff - with Macron, a 39-year-old former banker embracing free trade and the European Union, while Le Pen wants to seal France's borders, quit the euro and hold a referendum on the nation's membership in the bloc.

That did happen in 2002, when her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the presidential runoff but lost overwhelmingly to Jacques Chirac.

Macron also said that if elected, he would launch an global diplomatic initiative to "stabilize the region".

Macron took to Twitter (in French) and said, "MLP [Marine Le Pen] 10 minutes with her followers in a vehicle park in front of the cameras; me one hour and 15 minutes of work with the unions and no media. There's Marine Le Pen's project of a fractured, closed France". Macron promised to modernize phone and internet connections in rural areas and vigorously defended the European Union as an essential market for French farmers.

Following her statement on banning ritual slaughter, French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia accused Le Pen of "fomenting hatred and war between the government and religions, as well as interreligious animosity", saying her stance "undermines the foundations on which France was built". In a radio interview, he said he has "profiles, people in mind" for the post but again wouldn't reveal names. "Our agriculture needs Europe and openness".

He promised that no more schools would close in rural areas if he is elected. "If at the end of these 18 months, they have not fulfilled their responsibility, the state will substitute itself in their place to do this, within the framework of the investment plan I've decided".

Le Pen herself later told the same news channel "There is no one in the leadership of the National Front who defends this sort of thesis".

France's troubled wartime past took center stage Friday in the country's highly charged presidential race, as Marine Le Pen's far-right party suffered a new blow over alleged Holocaust denial and her centrist rival visited the site of France's worst Nazi massacre.

Jalkh, took over as party leader just this week after Le Pen said she would step aside to concentrate on her campaign, has come under fire this week over comments reported in a 2000 interview in which he allegedly cast doubt on the truth of Nazi gas chambers.

However another poll by Ifop-Fiducial for Paris Match, CNews and Sud Radio - also published on Thursday - showed the independent centrist's victory was still very much guaranteed.

  • Jon Douglas