Macron aims to press home his advantage as campaigning ends
Emmanuel Macron pulled out all the stops to try to consolidate his lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen ahead of the final ballot of the French presidential election on Sunday.
After joining France Inter radio on Friday morning, Macron travelled to the southern town of Figeac where he lunched with locals before making an impassioned pitch to keep his job for another five years.
He was on BFMTV in the evening and gave an interview to LCI television, before the midnight cut-off, when candidates are required by law to stop campaigning.
Throughout, the 44-year-old French leader called on his supporters to convince as many people as possible to rally round him, an attempt to activate the “Republican front” - a term for cross-party opposition that has prevented the far-right from taking power. He insisted his victory isn’t a done deal.
“It’s a referendum on the future of France,” Macron told BFMTV. “I am working until midnight and then I will be in a state of humility and reflection.”
The campaign has essentially been a rematch of the 2017 contest in which voters were presented with two starkly different visions for France.
Pro-European Macron advocates social and economic reforms to make the country more competitive. Le Pen, 53, is a eurosceptic who wants to put the country on a nationalist, nativist path and is promising to take on significant expenses to boost people’s purchasing power.
After the first round two weeks ago, the gap between the two was as slim as two percentage points. Markets got spooked. But Le Pen’s focus on the soaring cost of living was not enough to maintain her momentum once Macron turned his full attention from Russia’s war in Ukraine to the election, and closer scrutiny of her policies undermined her efforts to appear more moderate.
According to the last published polls on April 22, the gap between between them widened to around 11 percentage points. To reverse that trend, the nationalist needed to land a major blow in the presidential debate on Wednesday night. It didn’t happen.
Le Pen avoided repeating her disastrous debate performance of 2017, but she had difficulty fending off Macron’s attacks, especially on her economic policy, and failed to shine. Her team says the media has been too critical of her performance.
In the days since the encounter, Le Pen ramped up efforts to cast herself as a woman of the people while feeding a perception that Macron is an arrogant leader who understands nothing of the struggles of the working class.
She told voters on Friday that the president was trying to “brutalise” her during the debate and that “the disdain” he showed her was reflective of how he sees the French.
Etaples was a perfect spot to try to drive that point home. It’s a working class town in the north separated by a river from the glitzy seaside resort of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, where Macron has a home and where residents are more educated and optimistic about their future than Le Pen’s supporters.
In Figeac, Macron called for “unity” and “balance.” Earlier, in the radio interview, he said that he had made mistakes which benefited Le Pen.
“She feeds on the things we haven’t managed to do,” he said, “things that I haven’t succeeded in doing myself, namely quelling a certain anger, responding to demands quickly enough, and in particular, succeeding in giving the prospect of progress and security to the French middle and working classes.”
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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