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French candidates to say anything to win over undecided voters

Just four days left before the election in France. It seems that all candidates are so close that they are willing to say just anything to get undecided votes.

Polls suggest that as many as two in five voters have not yet chosen who they will vote for in Sunday's balloting. So candidates are reaching across the left-right divide to attract voters - and in essence, trying to be all things to all people.

Socialist Segolene Royal, No. 2 in the polls, declared herself the candidate of "audacity" in an interview Wednesday with Metro newspaper. Then, perhaps wondering whether that might alienate some voters, she added, "I promise a secure audacity" - a comment as puzzling in French as in English.

Francois Bayrou, who spent his whole career as a center-right politician, said Wednesday that he would name a center-left prime minister if he is elected - "for balance," he told Le Parisien newspaper. Bayrou, whose focus is trying to bridge France's left-right divide, is in third place in the polls.

Free-market conservative Nicolas Sarkozy admiringly quoted Italian communist Antonio Gramsci - a Marxist thinker - in an interview. Sarkozy said he agreed with Gramsci's concept that power is won through ideas. "It's the first time that a man from the right is taking on that battle," Sarkozy proclaimed in Le Figaro newspaper.

All the candidates have taken care to reach out to niche audiences - the three poll leaders all gave interviews to publications for animal-lovers, for example. Royal talked to Rottweiler News.

Sarkozy has consistently come out ahead in the polls for months. However, some recent surveys have suggested an ever-tighter race with Royal. That high voter volatility reflects France's search for direction after 12 years of economic stagnation under Jacques Chirac that have left the French feeling adrift, uncertain about who has the best answers for the future.

An Ipsos poll Wednesday suggested that Sarkozy would take 29.5 percent in Sunday's first round, Royal 24.5 percent, and Bayrou 18.5 percent. The fourth-place candidate, far-right anti-immigration nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen, was credited with 13.5 percent.

In the runoff May 6, according to the April 16-17 poll of 1,007 people, Sarkozy would take 53 percent, with Royal at 47 percent. That figure is so close that it is statistically meaningless, since the margin of error on a poll that size is around 3 percent.

Taking into the large number of undecided voters and the pollsters' error margins, observers say any of the four main candidates could make it into the runoff. The only candidate who seems virtually certain to advance is Sarkozy.

Le Pen, though he appears to be in fourth place, is a wild card. He came up from behind to surprise France by making it into the 2002 runoff against Chirac. Voters then overwhelmingly elected Chirac to shut out the nationalist firebrand.

Le Pen stayed true to form in interviews, telling RMC radio he would abolish laws that penalize people for making racist or anti-Semitic comments - charges he has personally been convicted of. Le Pen also suggested Sarkozy - the son of a Hungarian immigrant - was not French enough to be president.

"Nicolas Sarkozy, who only had one French grandparent in total, is perhaps not the best qualified to represent France and the French people as the president should," Le Pen told France-2 television.

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