French elections: Macron launches campaign for re-election in rival Le Pen’s fiefdoms | International
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And Emmanuel Macron went down into the mud. After resisting, for weeks, to get fully involved in the electoral campaign, the French president has traveled this Monday to a hostile territory: the old industrial and mining lands of northern France, fiefdom of Marine Le Pen, his far-right rival in the second round of the presidential elections, on April 24.
In a marathon day, the centrist Macron has launched himself to conquer the French who most distrust him: the popular classes that on Sunday, in the first round, voted en masse for Le Pen and also for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, candidate of the populist left and the third most voted behind Macron and Le Pen. Finally, the president mutated into a candidate.
“I am not afraid”, Macron warned in Denain, one of the stages of a journey that has taken him through three cities where Le Pen and Mélenchon were the most voted. “I go into combat. I want to convince everyone.”
The president was having one of those mass baths that he likes so much: more than two hours of discussion, heated at times, also friendly, and at times hostile. There was something of those monarchical rituals that so dazzle French republicans like Macron: the king in physical contact with the people, without intermediaries. It is no coincidence that General de Gaulle, founding father of modern France, defined the presidential election as “the meeting of a people with a man”.
It is not always pleasant, the encounter. “Macron, resign!” shouted a group. And another replied: “Macron, president!”
The president was the most voted in the first round, with 27.9% of votes. Le Pen got 23.1%. The result, better than expected for Macron and with a greater advantage over his rival than in the 2017 presidential elections, places him ahead of the final election.
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But nothing is certain. The ballots received in the first round are not enough for the finalists. To reach half plus one of the votes cast, which will give them the keys to the Elysee Palace, they need to convince voters of other candidates and other ideologies.
The search started this Monday. Le Pen gathered the campaign bureau and, in the afternoon, traveled to a farm in the Yonne province, southwest of Paris. Macron had already been plowing the roads of the Hauts-de-France border region with Belgium by then.
First stage: Denain, one of those toponyms that has ended up symbolizing many of the ills that afflict France. In the municipality, of 20,000 inhabitants, 42% of the inhabitants live below the poverty line. Unemployment exceeds 30%. Denain has not recovered from the closure, in the eighties, of the Usinor steel plant, lung and pride of the city.
On Sunday, Le Pen got 41.7% of the vote in Denain. Mélenchon, 28.6%. Macron, a measly 14.8%.
It was not friendly territory for the president, in principle. But at noon there were the authorities, the mayor, the socialist Anne-Lise Dufour-Tonini, and her government team. Everyone, under the sun waiting for the head of state and now a candidate. All, with the traditional tricolor band on the chest that the mayors wear on solemn occasions.
“This is an economically distressed city”, summed up the communist councilor David Audin. “Now we rebuild, rebuild, rebuild.”
All this was socialist and communist territory: the scenes of the great working-class history of France and Europe. The world of Germinal, the novel by Emile Zola. The fields of the great union battles and the epic of steel coal. The nucleus of the Europe that was reborn from its ashes after the Second World War.
Le Pen, leader of the first workers’ party in France
Deindustrialization, massive unemployment, and the disconnection of the left-wing parties with their long-standing electoral base: this is how the field was fertilized so that the National Front first, and later its heir, the National Regroupment, could claim themselves as “ the first workers’ party in France.
And rightly so: if only the workers had voted on Sunday, Le Pen would have won comfortably: 36%, according to the Ipsos demographic institute. Another fact from the post-election polls: Macron, the youngest candidate, was the most voted among retirees; Mélenchon, the oldest, the first among the young.
So Macron, with his entourage of police and security guards, advisers and journalists, landed at ground zero of this deindustrialized and Lepenized France. The official car was lowered in front of City Hall. He approached a fence and, surrounded by a riot of cameras, greeted, kissed, listened, explained.
“I feel anger,” he snapped at a woman. “I try to stay calm, but it’s complicated”,
The woman has thrown everything in his face, everything. Mandatory masks and the vaccination campaign against covid. The suppression of the revolt of the yellow vests. The rise in gasoline and even the salary of the head of state.
—The president: “I earn the same money as my predecessors, but being mayor, deputy, president, one does not get rich”
—The woman: “You don’t know how to live in France: Get the minimum wage!”
—The president: “This is demagogic.”
—The woman: “If you are elected again, the anger in the street will be complicated.”
It was clear that this citizen would never vote for Macron. But his words —and the contempt for his interlocutor, whom many French criticize for despising the people— summed up the distrust that Macron provokes in popular France: that of the yellow vests, that of Le Pen, that of Mélenchon. And she warned him of the work that remains to prevent this France from turning to the candidate of the extreme right.
In Denain, and later in Carvin and in Lens, Macron made an effort to show that he is not on the right, as the left, the radical and the moderate, accuse him, and that he is not the president of the rich, the sanbenito of which he does not manages to get rid of.
In his immersion among the inhabitants of the north, a double restlessness was heard during the exchanges. For the announcement that he will raise the retirement age from 62 to 65. And because of inflation and the loss of purchasing power in recent months.
“I have come to give social answers, in particular for workers and retirees,” Macron announced. And he listed the promise to increase pensions based on inflation, set the minimum pension at 1,100 euros per month and take into account, in the future pension reform, the wear and tear of physical jobs. And, in a nod to the left, he declared himself open to discussing retirement at 65.
The verdict of the socialist mayor: “People have been calmer.” And that of the communist Audin: “I’m glad you came. It has taken a long time to listen to the people. It’s what’s important.” Both, in accordance with the slogans of their parties, will vote for him on the 24th.
When the president had already been in the mass bath for more than two hours, a man dressed in an Olympique de Marseille shirt approached him. He explained that he had not voted for him in the first round. That he hesitated for the second. That Marine Le Pen, in Denain, had taken advantage of poverty to get votes. The president was direct: “I need your vote.” This is his battle, and Le Pen’s, in the next two weeks.
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