PARIS - Former prime ministers Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe go head-to-head on Sunday in a runoff vote for France's center-right presidential nomination, with the winner likely to face a showdown against a resurgent far-right in next year's election.
Opinion polls show Fillon, a social conservative with a deep attachment to his Catholic roots, going into the race as the clear favorite after stunning his centrist challenger with a massive surge in support just before the Nov. 20 first round.
A 62-year-old racing car enthusiast who lives in a Loire valley chateau, Fillon promises radical reforms to France's regulation-encumbered economy, vowing to roll back the state and slash government's bloated costs.
Scrambling to regain momentum, Juppe, 71, a soft-mannered moderate who is currently mayor of Bordeaux, has attacked the "brutality" of his rival's reform program and says the Paris lawmaker lacks credibility.
Many French citizens view Sunday's Les Republicains primary contest as a proxy for next spring's presidential election.
Pollsters say the winner will be favorite to enter the Elysee palace, with the ruling Socialists in turmoil and the anti-establishment National Front historically disadvantaged by France's two-round system.