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As French election goes into high gear, it's Mr. Hot vs. Mr. Cool

President Sarkozy is in full attack mode against Socialist frontrunner François Hollande, bringing a rarely seen element to French campaigning.

By Staff Writer / April 11, 2012

French President and conservative UMP party candidate for the upcoming election Nicolas Sarkozy (c.) poses for a photograph with residents as he campaigns in Drancy, near Paris, Tuesday.

Francois Mori/AP

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Paris

Just over a week before Round 1 of France's presidential elections, the race is tightening into a duel between Mr. Hot and Mr. Cool – Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.

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President Sarkozy is in full attack mode as Mr. Hot, doubling down, slashing, shooting in all directions, getting personal, scoffing at frontrunner Mr. Hollande, and warning that France faces a fearful future if he is not reelected.

Mr. Sarkozy’s recent “Letter to the French People” raises perils on nearly every page: of Islamic radicals, unchecked immigration, and a France slipping into an economic crisis like that of Greece or Spain. Sarkozy now wants two TV debates before the runoff on May 6 that decides the presidency.

It’s a hot attack style rarely seen in French politics. Sarkozy's numbers are not moving, and analysts say he needs momentum going into the second round.

"I'm going to win and I'll tell you why,” Sarkozy said recently. “He [Hollande] is no good and people are starting to see it. Hollande is useless." Today, Sarkozy said his adversary's policies would bring a “massive crisis of confidence” in the economy.

Mr. Cool, the Socialist Hollande, continues on with a 7-10 point lead in the second-round May 6 vote that, in yesterday's opinion polls, appears to be cementing, if anything. He is playing things low key, appearing affable, making no fearful tirades, smiling a lot, and refusing to step into a muddy ring with Sarkozy, even when the latter smeared his journalist girlfriend as a “caviar liberal.”

Mr. Cool’s strategy is to make no mistakes and to outlast Sarkozy by gathering, rather than hunting, the center votes of a weary France he feels is ready for change.

Hollande is benefiting from Sarkozy’s unpopularity and swimming with the tides of continued bad economic news, with high unemployment and no growth in the first quarter of 2012.  He contends that Sarkozy’s use of the terror and fear card will backfire, and that the French, after 11 years with Sarkozy as interior minister and then president, already see through it.

Hollande has in recent days taken pokes at Sarkozy, partly prodded by handlers who worry he needs to step up. At a rally yesterday, Hollande charged the current administration of “arrogance and conceit.” He said Sarkozy’s “excessive claims” were catching up to him, citing the president's assertion that he visited Fukushima after the tsunami, which did not happen.

"This is the first time in the history of the Republic that incumbent recounts a trip he has never taken," Hollande quipped in a comment reported in Le Nouvel Observateur.

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