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Undecided Vote May Be Key to French Presidency


According to French election laws, all campaigning, campaign coverage and poll taking must stop at midnight tonight. So Eleanor Beardsley sent us this update while she's still allowed.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: On Thursday, 17,000 cheering supporters packed a Paris sports arena to hear centrist candidate Francois Bayrou. Bayrou has been this year's election surprise, soaring in the polls to become a close third behind frontrunners Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal. Bayrou's success has stunned the two traditional parties. Twenty-eight-year-old Olivier Panyol(ph), who attended the rally, says he usually votes on the left.


OLIVIER PANYOL: It has always been the same thing in France. We have always been divided between left and right. We think that this time we could try the middle, and we wanted vote for Francois Bayrou because he has new ideas and he want to make good things from the left and good things from the right.

BEARDSLEY: Royal launched her program several months ago amidst an unprecedented media frenzy. She was heralded as the fresh face who could change the country and bring the left to power again. Royal promised to remake France with her 100- point presidential pact with the people.

SEGOLENE ROYAL: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: To surmount our crisis, we need new policies and a new France, she said as she launched her platform earlier this year. But her proposals, which promised a little something for everyone, were attacked for being too costly. And critics say Royal's campaign has dragged along, beset by a divided party and her own inexperience. She's also been criticized for making populist appeals to the voters. Political commentator Didier Epelbaum says she's not the only candidate in this campaign to do so.

DIDIER EPELBAUM: The most important things like Europe for example, are the deficit. They don't talk about it, and it's a consensus between all the candidates, because it's too tough.


BEARDSLEY: What's tough, says Epelbaum, is telling the French they have to change.

EPELBAUM: People want changes, but they fear the changes because the main changes they have proposed mean a lack of security. Less money, less social protection.

BEARDSLEY: Conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has run on a ticket of putting France to work again.

NICOLAS SARKOZY: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: There's one virtue to the 35-hour workweek, he told an audience recently, it's the only idea we don't have to copyright because nobody wants it.


BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy has been trying to soften his image but he's also been trying to attract the supporters of the right-wing populist Jean-Marie Le Pen. He's the dark horse of French politics who could repeat his success of 2002 when he made it to the second round.


BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Man: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.