Election defeat looms, the opinion polls suggest, but Nicolas Sarkozy is determined to remain France’s president.
His only hope of victory is to win over the record number of voters who picked the far-right National Front in last weekend’s first round ballot.
Conservative Sarkozy has swung hard to the right on immigration and Islam in the run-up to the second round run-off. However he rejects criticism
of his more hardline stance from foes including ex-Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.
“No-one will prevent me speaking to the people of France, all the people of France,” Sarkozy told supporters at a rally in Dijon in the east of the country.
His rival Francois Hollande has been more reluctant to court National Front voters openly although he agrees their anger should be heard. On course for victory on May 6, the Socialist frontrunner accuses Sarkzoy of veering dangerously to the right.
“He will go looking for what he is missing from the extreme right,” Hollande told a campaign rally in the city of Limoges.
“He had paraded himself as an uninhibited candidate of the right. Now it is not just a question of being uninhibited. It is a complete transgression…..We can see it going out of control: in the vocabulary, in the themes, in the expressions, on immigration, on Islam, on security and now he is dipping into the manifesto of the extreme right.”
After his first round win, Hollande is looking increasingly presidential, pundits say, while Sarkozy seems more like the challenger.
The Socialist hopes to see his rival become the first French head of state voted out of office in more than 30 years.