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France debates: did Le Pen or Macron win Whirlpool fight?

Antoine Gyori | Corbis via Getty Images

France is furiously debating who out of Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron won "the battle of Whirlpool" — the remarkable clash of styles on Wednesday when both presidential candidates stumped for blue-collar votes at a closure-threatened appliance factory in northern France.

Former presidential candidate Francois Bayrou — a Macron ally — is awarding victory to the centrist former economy minister, saying Macron showed courage by spending over an hour trying to talk with angry workers at the Whirlpool plant in Amiens.

Bayrou, speaking Thursday on BFM television, says Macron's impromptu visit to the plant — his attempt to take back the initiative after Le Pen stole his thunder by popping up before him earlier in the day at the Whirlpool factory gates — could have been "very bad for him."

Macron was whistled and booed when he first arrived, in chaotic scenes broadcast live on French TV news channels. But he stuck his ground, patiently and at times passionately debating workers in often heated exchanges about how to stop French jobs from moving abroad.

Bayrou says that "arriving to whistles, he (Macron) left shaking hands" and showed his character.

He was dismissive of Le Pen's much shorter visit, saying: "She stayed 10 minutes, with selfies and smiles, and that's not a presidential campaign."