PARIS – The French presidential election entered a new, intense phase on Tuesday, as President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate who tried to oust him, traded barbs from a distance and rubbed voters in hopes of increasing their appeal, especially on the left.
Macron, who spent the day in eastern France, and Ms Le Pen, who campaigned in Normandy, are taking part in the second round of voting in the election, a rematch of their 2017 face-off to be held in April. 24.
In Sunday’s first ballot, both drew a larger share of voters than five years ago – Mr Macron with 27.85 percent of the vote, up from 24.01 in 2017, and Ms Le Pen, of the National Rally party, by 23.15%. It was the largest share ever that a far-right candidate won in the first ballot, and almost 2 percentage points more than in 2017.
The latest polls are predicting a very close second round and only slightly ahead of Mr Macron.
With less than two weeks left before the vote, Mr Macron has picked up the pace in an effort to dispel criticism that his campaign ahead of the first round was unfocused and that he seemed distracted by his diplomatic efforts to start the war. to end Ukraine.
In Mulhouse, an Alsace town, Mr Macron navigated crowds to shake hands with those who supported him and debate with those who didn’t, many of whom asked poignant questions about issues such as purchasing power, social benefits and hospital financing.
“I’m on the field,” Macron said emphatically to a slew of television reporters, emphasizing that for the past two days he had chosen to meet voters in cities that had not voted for him.
He tried to portray Mrs. Le Pen as unfit to rule.
For example, Ms Le Pen says she has no intention of leaving the European Union, but many of her promised policies would be against the rules. Mr Macron dismissed her insurance policies as ‘carabistouilles’, an old-fashioned term that roughly translates to ‘claptrap’ or ‘nonsense’.
“The election is also a referendum on Europe,” Macron later said at a public rally in Strasbourg, where supporters waved French and European flags in the shadow of the city’s imposing cathedral.
Roland Lescure, a legislator in the French House of Commons for Macron’s party, La République en Marche, said the campaign now focused on getting Macron in direct contact with voters as much as possible.
“The method is contact,” Mr Lescure said, warning that there is a real risk of Ms Le Pen being elected. “We have to campaign at full speed and to the end.”
Mr Macron’s status as the leader at the helm during the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine is not enough to secure him a new term, nor is it warning voters about the threat of extreme right, said Mr Lescure. †
“It’s not the devil against the angel,” he said. “They are social models that are fundamentally opposite. We need to show what Marine Le Pen’s platform would do to France.”
On Tuesday, Mr Macron was supported by Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s right-wing president from 2007 to 2012. Ms Le Pen’s campaign revealed an official poster reminiscent of the official presidential portrait of Mr Macron. Mrs. Le Pen’s has a slogan: “For all the French.”
After the collapse of France’s traditional left and right parties on Sunday, much of the candidates’ energy is now spent pursuing voters who abstained in the first round or elected Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the radical left and veteran politician who came in a strong third place, with 21.95 percent of the vote.
For Ms Le Pen, that means emphasizing economic proposals such as a lower sales tax on essential goods, but also keeping a distance from Éric Zemmour, another far-right politician.
Mr Zemmour, an pundit who rocked French politics with his presidential bid, came fourth on Sunday, with polls suggesting that more than 80 percent of those who chose him in the first round plan to run for Ms Le Pen in the second round. to vote. That gives her little incentive to openly court them as she tries to reinvent herself in the eyes of mainstream voters.
On Tuesday, Ms Le Pen flatly rejected the possibility of making Mr Zemmour one of her ministers if she won, telling France Inter radio that “he doesn’t want that and neither do I.”
For Mr Macron, attracting Mr Mélenchon’s voters means toning down proposals that are particularly taboo on the left, in particular his plans to raise the statutory retirement age from 62 to 65, which he believes is necessary to continue to fund.
On Monday, he insisted he would gradually raise the retirement age by four months a year from 2023, but said he was open to easing the plan at a later date, although it is still unclear how and to what extent. † During his first term, Mr Macron’s pension proposals were derailed by massive strikes and protests.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday in Vernon, a Normandy town where she also blended into the crowds, Ms Le Pen dismissed Mr Macron’s concession as a feeble attempt to attract left-wing voters, calling his platform ” social massacre”.
She has elaborated several proposals that she hoped would attract voters who support Mr Mélenchon, such as creating a mechanism for referendums proposed by citizens’ initiative, or introducing proportional representation in Parliament.
“I intend to be a president who gives the people their voice back,” she said.
Mr. Mélenchon was particularly popular with urban voters, taking the lead in cities such as Lille, Marseille, Montpellier and Nantes, and scoring high with the French youth. A survey of the polling stations of Ipsos and Sopra Steria found that more than 30 percent of the over-35s voted for him, more than any other candidate.
Marie Montagne, 21, and Ellina Abdellaoui, 22, both English literature students standing in front of the Sorbonne University in Paris, said Mr Mélenchon hadn’t necessarily been their first choice – online quizzes suggested to Ms Abdellaoui she was the most compatible with Philippe Poutou, a fringe anti-capitalist candidate.
But Mr Mélenchon’s left-wing, ecological platform was still attractive, they said, and he seemed the left-wing candidate best positioned to reach the second round. But now the two students said they faced a difficult choice.
“I hesitate between abstaining and Macron,” said Ms Abdellaoui. “I can’t vote for Le Pen.”
Ms Montagne said she would vote for the incumbent “because I don’t want the slightest chance of the far right passing.”
“But I won’t vote for him because I like it,” she added.
Adele Cordonnier reporting contributed.