Macron campaigns in the Le Pen area before the French election

DENAIN, France – French President Emmanuel Macron rushed out on the campaign track on Monday, hours after finishing at the top of the first round of the presidential election, as opinion polls continued to suggest that the drain between him and Marine Le Pen would bring the extreme right wing closer to the French presidency than ever before.

Predictions that Macron could emerge from Le Pen on April 24 by as little as four to six percentage points have troubled the president’s supporters as well as countries across Europe. Le Pen, who embarked on a campaign trip to another part of France on Monday afternoon, has framed the vote as a “choice of civilization”.

Macron made minimal campaign ahead of the first round, but on Monday he appeared to be ready to engage in two intense weeks and woo voters who chose other candidates or sat out in the first round, including going on the offensive in Le Pen territory.

The president’s first trip led him to Denain, a city in one of France’s poorest regions in the north, where 42 percent of voters supported Le Pen on Sunday and only 15 percent voted Macron. More than a third abstained.

Macron, who was sometimes criticized for being remote, showed his most accommodating side, moving slowly through the crowd and stopping to take selfies. He spent over an hour talking to voters who showed up in front of the local mayor’s office, answering questions about inflation, rising living costs and inadequate pensions – some of the crucial questions in this campaign, which have been amplified by the impact. of the war in Ukraine.

Christiane Delbecq, 59, said afterwards that she had randomly chosen a candidate for the first round – Monday morning she was not even sure which one she had voted for. But Macron’s visit to Denain seemed to have won her over.

“What he was talking about made sense to me,” she said. “Le Pen has said a lot of things, including about Muslims, that I disagree with.”

Other voters will be harder to convince. Some of those gathered to see the president outside Denain’s mayor’s office played anti-Macron songs, and at times the mood was tense.

“I’m here to talk about all my promises and explain my reforms. But I’m also here to tell you, face to face, that you’re lying,” Macron told a voter who attacked his track record. false that I have done nothing for Denain. “

A few hundred yards away from where Macron shook hands, 54-year-old Pascale Henry walked around his day in front of the post office – saying he still plans to vote for Le Pen in two weeks. “People here need help,” he said. “Macron says a lot, but he does not do much.”

Le Pen reiterated this criticism on Monday during a campaign trip to Soucy, a far-right stronghold in central France. “Now that [Macron] goes to Denain to see the consequences of his five-year term … I hope he will realize that his policies have done enormous damage and that purchasing power is a top priority for millions of French people. “

Macron seemed unafraid of Le Pen’s line of attack as he moved even closer to her home ground on Monday night, campaigning in her constituency in the city of Carvin.

In his victory speech Sunday, Macron had said he wanted to convince those who abstained or voted for extreme candidates, “that our project provides a much more solid answer to their fears than the extreme right.” His strategy appears to be aimed at reviving the “Republican front” – a coalition of voters across the political spectrum who are opposed to the far right.

Macron has spent much of the past five years formulating his vision for how France and Europe more broadly need to address the social and economic concerns that drive voters to support nationalist figures. However, political analysts say Macron is also partly responsible for breaking the anti-nationalist coalition when he crushed France’s established center-right and center-left parties in 2017.

Many of the candidates he defeated in the first round on Sunday immediately urged their supporters to vote for Macron and prevent a Le Pen victory in the by-elections.

Among those who threw their weight behind the incumbent were left-wing candidates Fabien Roussel, Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot and – most critically – Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left politician who finished third on Sunday, narrowly behind Le Pen.

“You must not give a single voice to Madame Le Pen,” Mélenchon said on Sunday, repeating the sentence several times.

Macron also received support from center-right candidate Valérie Pécresse, whose voters have shown particular inclination to consider supporting Le Pen.

Although Macon appears to have a larger potential pool of voters to draw from than Le Pen has, it is still very uncertain how many people will switch to him on April 24th.

He faces a particularly steep rise with Mélenchon voters, which include those on the left who have been disappointed with the president’s right-wing shift in national security and his record of climate policies. And opinion polls suggest about a third of Mélenchon’s supporters can vote for Le Pen in the second round.

“Left-wing voters really have the key to this election in their hands – they are the kingmakers,” said Vincent Martigny, a political scientist at the University of Nice.

By traveling to areas that are strongholds of the right wing, Macron risks further alienating voters on the left. But the topics that dominated his journey on Monday – the impact of deindustrialisation and high poverty – have been central to both Le Pen and Mélenchon.

On Sunday, Mélenchon received 19 percent of the vote in Hauts-de-France, where Denain is located.

While Macron’s handling of the pandemic has largely been met with approval in France, the far right and far left have been critical of his introduction of a vaccination passport. Macron seemed to be playing into the hands of his critics when he told a French newspaper in January that he wanted to “piss” everyone who was still unvaccinated.

In response to a voter accusing Macron of treating unvaccinated people as “citizens,” Macron defended those earlier comments on Monday, saying, “I said it in a loving way.”

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