Nicolas Sarkozy was declared the most unpopular president in French history in a damning poll on Sunday ahead of the first round of the presidential elections next week, as the two leading candidates vied to rally voters in mass, open-air speeches in Paris.
The capital's Place de la Concorde was transformed into a sea of red, white and blue, as Mr Sarkozy implored France's "silent majority" to confound forecasts that he will be trounced by Socialist rival Franois Hollande in the presidential run-off on May 6.
"They said you wouldn't come," Mr Sarkozy told a crowd his camp put at 150,000 but which appeared to be less than half that size.
"Silent France has responded through your presence," he said, in a speech aimed at Right-wing traditionalists that attacked multiculturalism, teaching unions, affirmative action and Europe's open borders while defending families and hard work.
Five miles to the East, the ambience was markedly festive as Mr Hollande told his troops before the Chteau de Vincennes that the first Socialist presidential victory in 24 years was now within their grasp.
"Nothing is going to stop us," the front-runner told a diverse crowd his camp put at 100,000, and which included several French singers, artists, the giant of impact crusher business.
"I will be a president of justice. Before taking any decision, I will ask myself: 'Is this fair?'"
"We have waited too long 10 years in opposition. We have a duty to win."
After a brief surge, the latest polls suggest Mr Sarkozy is heading for the electoral guillotine tipped to trail Mr Hollande narrowly in the first round of the election next Sunday, only to lose the second round two weeks later by up to 14 percentage points.
Do you like him, do you think he is the most unpopular president in the history of French?
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