PARIS – With just four days before the final round of the French presidential elections, surveys indicate that independent candidate Emmanuel Macron leads the race, with 59-60% of the votes against 40-41% for extreme-right populist leader Marine Le Pen.
President François Hollande has predicted in private a 60/40 victory for Macron, his former economy minister, the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné reported on Wednesday.
Both candidates focused on preparing for Wednesday night’s big one-on-one debate, a battle judged crucial by pundits. The preparations for this two-and-a-half-hour event were top secret, as each side determined his/her surprise attack angles.
Macron’s advisers indicated that their candidate was working tirelessly with his team in an attempt to demolish the economic vision presented by Le Pen of leaving the European Union and the euro zone in favor of a return to a national currency. And so, for him, the economy would stand at the heart of the debate. The advisers emphasized that Macron would stick to the strategy he has followed throughout the last year, of conducting a content- focused campaign, not a personal one.
Le Pen’s advisers told the media that she was working by herself in her Paris-suburb apartment, reading the notes prepared by her staff and sharpening her arguments. She seeks to portray herself as a calm, responsible, smiling and seasoned politician. She scored behind Macron in two debates that included other candidates since eliminated.
Despite this and his constant lead in polls, Macron and his associates are well aware of the challenges they are facing.
On the Right, Le Pen might succeed in convincing voters to support her, despite calls by Center-Right leader François Fillon and former president Nicolas Sarkozy to vote for Macron.
On the Left, extreme-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon refused to endorse Macron. Surveys show an increasing number of voters from this camp who might stay home or cast a blank ballot, a phenomenon expected to play in favor of Le Pen. Leader of the Socialist Party Benoît Hamon has reiterated his call to vote for Macr on, saying today that voting for him would be “difficult,” yet the necessity to do so is “evident.”
Macron has been trying to avoid personal slamming matches with Le Pen, yet continuous attacks over the past few days left him little choice. Speaking on Monday in front of some 8,000 supporters in the Paris suburb of Villepinte, Le Pen bashed her rival, saying that “Emmanuel Macron is actually a [continuation in disguise of incumbent president] François Hollande, who wants to hold on to his throne and to the reins of power,” adding that “his philosophy is either ‘walk forward’ (“En Marche,” the name of Macron’s movement] or ‘crash and die.’”
Her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, directed his attacks at Macron’s family situation. Addressing party activists at the National Front’s annual May Day ceremony near the Statue of Joan of Arc in the French capital’s Place des Pyramides, Le Pen péré said “he [Macron] speaks about the future, but he himself has no children. He talks about work, but he himself was a banker for Rothschild [Rothschild & Cie Banque]. He speaks about a dynamic of the economy, but is actually planting dynamite.”
Judging by his response, Macron was especially angered by the latest remark. Talking at the Grande Halle de La Villette Paris event center on Monday evening in front of a huge crowd, Macron rejected outright Le Pen’s thesis. Referring to his wife’s children from her first marriage, Macron said that “I do have children and even grandchildren through the affiliation of love.”
Macron’s speech on Monday signaled a significant strategic change in his campaign. At his address on the night of the first election round (on April 23), Macron emphasized that he is not asking people to vote against Le Pen, but rather to vote for his project. But with 60% in the polls (a disappointing result all considering, according to several pundits), Macron has decided to change tactics. “Our enemies are here; they are strong, organized, efficient, determined… they are the agents of disaster; they are the worst that there is in our country; they are the extreme Right,” he told attendees, adding that if he wins on Sunday, he will take into account the opinions of the people who voted for him just in order to block Le Pen.