Macron and Le Pen Trade Jabs and Lean Left as French Race Heats Up

PARIS (AP) — France’s presidential election entered a new and intense phase Tuesday as President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate seeking to unseat him, traded criticism from afar and rubbed elbows with voters with the hoping to broaden his appeal, especially on the left.

Macron, who spent the day in eastern France, and Le Pen, who campaigned in Normandy, are competing in the second round of voting in the election, a rematch of their 2017 showdown in April. 24

In the first round of voting on Sunday, both attracted a higher proportion of voters than five years ago: Macron with 27.85 percent of the vote, up from 24.01 in 2017, and Le Pen of the National Rally party. , with 23.15 percent. It was the largest proportion ever won by a far-right candidate in the first round of elections, and almost 2 percentage points more than in 2017.

The latest polls predict a very close second round and put Macron only slightly ahead.

With the vote less than two weeks away, Macron has picked up the pace, trying to dispel criticism that his campaign before the first round was unfocused and seemed distracted by his diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine.

In Mulhouse, a city in the Alsace region, Macron walked through crowds to shake hands with those who supported him and debate with those who did not, many of whom sharply questioned him on issues such as purchasing power, social benefits and hospital funding. .

“I am in the countryside,” Macron pointedly told a group of television reporters, emphasizing that for the past two days he had chosen to meet with voters in cities that had not voted for him.

He tried to portray Mrs. Le Pen as unfit to rule.

Ms Le Pen, for example, says she has no intention of leaving the European Union, but many of her promised policies would violate its rules. Macron dismissed his assurances as “carabistouilles,” an antiquated term that roughly translates to “nonsense” or “nonsense.”

“The election is also a referendum on Europe,” Macron said later at a public gathering in Strasbourg, where supporters waved French and European Union flags in the shadow of the city’s towering cathedral.

Roland Lescure, a lawmaker in the lower house of France’s parliament for Macron’s party, La République en Marche, said the campaign was now focused on getting Macron as much face-to-face time with voters as possible.

“The method is contact,” Lescure said, warning that there is a real risk that Le Pen will be chosen. “We have to campaign at full speed and to the end.”

Macron’s stature as a leader who was at the helm during the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine is not enough to secure him a new term, and neither is warning voters about the far-right threat, Lescure said. .

“It’s not the devil against the angel,” he said. “It is the social models that are fundamentally opposed. We need to show what Marine Le Pen’s platform would do to France.”

On Tuesday, Macron received the endorsement of Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s right-wing president from 2007 to 2012. Le Pen’s campaign sleepless an official poster reminiscent of Macron’s official presidential portrait. Mrs. Le Pen has a motto: “For all French people”.

Following the collapse of France’s traditional left and right parties on Sunday, much of the candidates’ energy is now devoted to appealing to voters who either abstained in the first round or chose Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the radical leftist. and political veteran who came in a strong third place, with 21.95 percent of the vote.

For Le Pen, that means highlighting economic proposals like a lower sales tax on essential goods, but also keeping Éric Zemmour, another far-right politician, at arm’s length.

Zemmour, a pundit who rocked French politics with his presidential bid, was fourth on Sunday, with polls suggesting that more than 80 percent of those who chose him in the first round intend to vote for Le Pen in the second. . That gives him little incentive to court them openly as he tries to reinvent himself in the eyes of mainstream voters.

On Tuesday, Le Pen flatly rejected the possibility of making Zemmour one of her ministers should she win, telling France Inter radio that “he doesn’t want to and neither do I.”

For Macron, appealing to Mélenchon voters means watering down proposals that are particularly taboo for the left, especially his plans to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 65, which he says is necessary to continue funding the state pension system. from France.

On Monday, he insisted he would gradually push back the retirement age by four months a year from 2023, but said he was open to discussing easing the plan in its later stages, though how and to what extent remains unclear. . During his first term, Macron’s pension proposals were thwarted by strikes and mass protests.

Ms Le Pen, speaking Tuesday at a news conference in Vernon, a town in Normandy where she also mingled with the crowd, dismissed Macron’s concession as a feeble attempt to attract left-wing voters and called his platform “carnage”. Social”.

He detailed several proposals that he hoped would attract voters who supported Mélenchon, such as creating a referendum mechanism proposed by popular initiative or introducing proportional representation in Parliament.

“I intend to be a president who gives back the voice to the people,” he said.

Mélenchon was particularly popular with urban voters, winning in cities such as Lille, Marseille, Montpellier and Nantes, and scoring high among France’s youth. A study by the Ipsos and Sopra Steria polling institutes found that more than 30 percent of those under 35 had voted for him, more than any other candidate.

Marie Montagne, 21, and Ellina Abdellaoui, 22, both English literature majors opposite the Sorbonne University in Paris, said Mr Mélenchon had not necessarily been their first choice: online tests suggested Mrs. Abdellaoui that she was more compatible. with Philippe Poutou, a fringe anti-capitalist candidate.

But Mélenchon’s left-wing ecological platform was still attractive, they said, and he seemed the best-positioned left-wing candidate to make it to the second round. Now, however, the two students said they faced a difficult choice.

“I am hesitating between abstaining and Macron,” Abdellaoui said. “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 getting through.”

“But I will not vote for him because I enjoy it,” he added.

adela shoemaker contributed report.

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