Hollande Leads Sarkozy on Eve of Debate Amid Le Pen Snub

Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande led President Nicolas Sarkozy 54 percent to 46 percent on the eve of their only campaign debate, an Ifop poll showed.

Hollande’s eight-point advantage was down from 10 points, 55-45, in the previous survey. Ifop interviewed 1,876 registered voters by telephone between April 26 and 29. The results, on the Paris Match website, had no margin of error.

The candidates spent the May Day holiday rallying supporters at campaign events with five days to go before election day. The incumbent spoke in Paris and Hollande was in Nevers, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the south where former Socialist Prime Minister Pierre Beregovoy committed suicide in 1993 after the party suffered an election defeat.

Also in Paris, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who finished third in the April 22 first round, declined to endorse either Hollande or Sarkozy. She said she would hand in a so-called blank ballot and advised her supporters to vote according to their conscience.

“Neither Hollande or Sarkozy will save you,” Le Pen said at a rally in Paris. She urged voters to support National Front deputies in legislative elections on June 10 and June 17.

“The presidency is not for us this time, but we have laid the foundations for our eventual arrival in power,” Le Pen said, criticizing the European Commission, European Central Bank, austerity measures and France’s immigration policy.

Le Pen has called for France to abandon the euro, tighten border controls and pull away from European treaties.

Le Pen Supporters

Forty-three percent of her first-round voters would pick Sarkozy in the runoff and 18 percent Hollande, with 39 percent declining to say, according to the Ifop poll. Le Pen got 18 percent of the vote in the April 22 first round.

Supporters of self-styled centrist Francois Bayrou are more divided with 31 percent planning to vote for Sarkozy, 28 percent for Hollande and 41 percent declining to say, the poll found. An estimated 80 percent of leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon’s supporters will cast their ballot for Hollande. Bayrou won 9.1 percent in the first round while Melenchon got 11 percent.

“My goal is to be the second president from Correze and finally a successor to Francois Mitterrand,” Hollande said referring to former President Jacques Chirac, who like himself was a representative of Correze, a rural district in central France, and the last Socialist president who was in office two terms between 1981 and 1995.

Also on the campaign trail, Sarkozy today took aim at French unions, calling for a new French social model

“I am telling the unions to put down your red flag and serve France,” the president told supporters near the Eiffel Tower. “I’ll fight to the last second of the last minute,” he said.

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