The only face-to-face televised debate between France's presidential candidates turned into an uncivil, no-holds-barred head-on clash of styles, politics, and personalities Wednesday. Emmanuel Macron called his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen a "parasite" who would lead the country into civil war. She painted the former banker as a lackey of big business who is soft on Islamic extremism. Neither landed a knockout blow in the 2.5-hour prime-time slugfest—but not for lack of trying. The tone was ill-tempered from the get-go, with no common ground or love lost between the two candidates and their polar opposite plans and visions for France, the AP reports. For the large cohort of voters who remain undecided, the debate at least had the merit of making abundantly clear the stark choice facing them at the ballot box Sunday.
Neither candidate announced major policy shifts. They instead spent much of their carefully monitored allotments of time attacking each other—often personally. Le Pen's choicest barb came as she argued that Macron, if elected, would be in the pocket of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Either way France will be led by a woman; either me or Madame Merkel," she said derisively. Macron portrayed "high priestess of fear" Marine Le Pen as an empty shell, shaky on details and facts, seeking to profit politically by stirring up hatred. "Your project lives off fear and lies. That's what sustains you. That's what sustained your father for decades. That's what nourished the extreme right and that is what created you," Macron said. "You are its parasite." "What class!" Le Pen retorted. (Read more French elections stories.)