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By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Argentine opposition candidate Mauricio Macri accused the ruling party of fear mongering after a weekend barrage of online attack ads warned he would throw people off welfare and reduce living standards by devaluing the currency.
"Imagine yourself without a home. Imagine yourself hungry ... Imagine yourself if Macri wins," says one ad, flashing images from the 2002 economic crisis that threw millions of Argentines into poverty. It was tweeted by ruling party loyalist Luis D'Elia.
Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires and an advocate of free markets, defied the opinion polls by easily getting enough votes in the Oct. 25 election to push ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli into a Nov. 22 run-off.
"The official party is showing a dark strategy of trying to sow angst and fear with the sole goal of frightening people over the possibility of change," Macri said on Facebook.
"But it's not going to work," said Macri, who promises to jumpstart investment and fight inflation while keeping needed social programs in place.
Scioli is from the same party as outgoing president Cristina Fernandez. He said his campaign seeks not to sow fear but to remind voters of the risk of returning to the free-market policies of the 1990s, which preceded the 2002 crisis.
On state-owned TV, a sports commentator on Saturday suggested Macri could return the rights to air soccer games to pay-per-view channels, a franchise ended under Fernandez when she instituted her "Soccer for Everyone" program.
"Are you going to have to go back to paying? Think about it," commentator Javier Vicente asked. Soccer is a national passion.
Since Macri's strong showing on Oct. 25, Argentine shares have climbed 10 percent. Analysts say they are set to rise futher if Macri winds on on Nov. 22. But Scioli is still very much in the race.
Adulated by supporters for widening the social safety net but detested by business leaders for placing heavy controls on the economy, Fernandez is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
On Friday Scioli said Macri plans "a major currency devaluation, which would mean a loss of wages in real terms." Macri says Argentina's peso is overvalued, but he has not laid out a time-table for devaluation.
Neither candidate backs the kind of sharp fiscal adjustment that Wall Street says is needed after years of free-spending populism under Fernandez, who reluctantly endorsed the more market-friendly Scioli earlier this year.
Although from the same Front for Victory party, Fernandez's inner circle is far to the left of Scioli.
The local press has been full of accounts of rising tensions between the Fernandez and Scioli camps since his lackluster performance in the Oct. 25 first round election.
Reporting by Hugh Bronstein Editing by W Simon