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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Presidential Finalists Rushing Toward the Center

PARIS -- The battle between French conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal heated up on Tuesday as their camps tried tactics to woo voters in the political center.

Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou is no longer in the running, but his strong third-place showing in Sunday's first round of balloting could make him a kingmaker if he throws his support behind the law-and-order former interior minister or to the leftist with a chance of being France's first woman president.

Polls show Sarkozy is in the lead, but Royal still has a fighting chance in the May 6 runoff. Both are dynamic figures in their 50s who have rekindled interest in politics after 12 years under Jacques Chirac that left voters with a stagnant economy and a low mood about France's place in the world.

Francois Fillon, one of Sarkozy's advisers, reached out to middle-ground voters Tuesday by telling Le Figaro newspaper that Sarkozy's camp would form a government with figures from beyond their conservative political party UMP.

Royal, who previously dismissed calls for an alliance with Bayrou, made an appeal to him Monday, saying she was available for a public dialogue.

"It is my responsibility to make this overture," she told supporters in the southern city of Valence. "I'm awaiting a response."

Sarkozy, who courted the far right during his campaign and is criticized by many for abrasive language, has sought to soften his image as he reached out to voters in the middle.

Bayrou, whose centrist party has traditionally voted with the right in the parliament but who as a candidate attracted leftist sympathizers, has kept quiet about endorsing either runoff candidate.