France's tightly-contested presidential race sank deeper into smear and sleaze on Tuesday after centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was forced to deny a gay extramarital affair. Meanwhile, scandals continued to dog Macron's rival, conservative Francois Fillon, and his party. Rumors of Macron's affair were circulated by Russian state media, according to a report Monday by the Washington Post, which called them totally unsubstantiated.
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A slump in support for Fillon after accusations that he used taxpayers' money to pay his wife for work she may not have done has propelled Macron into the top spot in opinion polls.
Late on Monday, Macron, a centrist former economy minister and ex-banker, sought to move his campaign onward, taking an opportunity to dismiss rumors he had a gay relationship with Radio France CEO Mathieu Gallet outside of his marriage to Brigitte Trogneux.
The Post cited a broadcast report on a Russian state television show on Sunday that made reference to Macron's marriage to his former French teacher and that stated in part: "There are still rumors about his nontraditional [sexual] orientation and how he took 120,000 euros [$128,000] from the budget to finance his movement and election campaign."
The Post said Russian state media have targeted Macron, "employing a grab-bag of media reports, rumor and innuendo that could keep a fact-checker busy for days." In addition to Sunday's Russian television report, the Post cited similar reporting by the state-funded English-language Sputnik news agency.
Tight race with Le Pen
In the latest polls, Macron is seen beating Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential election run-off, as Macron's score is edging up, showed an Opinionway poll published Tuesday.
Opinionway's daily poll of voting intentions said Le Pen would get the biggest score in round one of the election in April, with Le Pen obtaining 25 percent of votes, compared to 23 percent for Macron.
Francois Fillon, candidate for The Republicans right-wing party who has been hit by allegations concerning his wife's work for him, would get 20 percent but would be eliminated after the first round.
In the second round, Macron was seen winning with 66 percent - up slightly from his score in Opinionway's poll on Feb. 6 which had showed Macron getting 65 percent of votes.