Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are preparing for their one chance for a knockout in the French presidential election race in their only one-on-one debate.

Much is at stake for both contenders, who are expected to square off Wednesday for more than two hours in their final showdown before Sunday’s runoff vote.

Le Pen, has been setting the pace in the finale of the campaign with a well-oiled communication strategy that included a surprise visit at a factory just before her rival arrived, but the latest opinion polls show the pro-EU Macron holding a strong lead over his far-right rival.

Le Pen, who has softened her anti-EU message over the past 10 days to broaden her political reach, is expected to hammer home her favourite themes of security and identity as she tries to lure traditional rightist voters who supported Francois Fillon in the first round. Fillon, a former prime minister, finished third with some 20 per cent of the votes and polls suggest that as many as a third of Fillon’s voters will choose Le Pen in the second round.

Both candidates will also go after backers of far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who refused to endorse either finalist in a race which he says pits “the extreme right” against “extreme finance” — a jab at Macron’s career in banking.

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