Paris: Warnings against the dangers of globalisation and terrorism and efforts to portray rival Emmanuel Macron as the establishment candidate will be at the heart of Marine Le Pen’s campaign for the May 7 French election run-off.
While very much aware that opinion polls give Le Pen no chance of winning, the National Front (FN) hit hard on those themes right at the start of the between-the-two-round campaign, seeking to attract disgruntled far-leftists and right-wingers.
A one-on-one against an ex-banker backed by politicians of all stripes wanting to form a dam against the FN gives Le Pen the perfect opportunity to boost her anti-establishment appeal, even if pollsters say that is not enough for her to win.
Her canvassing at a market in the unemployment-ridden small town of Rouvroy, in northern France, on Monday morning, saying the run-off would be a referendum against globalisation and slamming the “rotten” alliance of mainstream politicians against her, set the tone.
“I’m convinced a big majority of French are opposed to rampant globalisation,” Le Pen said, in between selfies, in a town where she got more than 40% of the votes on Sunday and far-leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, also a harsh critic of globalisation and the political mainstream, came second.
Le Pen’s closest aides were out and about on morning media shows pressing that point and saying that those who backed Melenchon were within reach for Le Pen.
“The left-right divide is something of the past and the new divide is between the globalists and the patriots,” Gaetan Dussausaye, the head of the FN Youths and a member of Le Pen’s campaign committee, told Reuters. “We saw that last night and it will be at the heart of the campaign between the two rounds.”
Le Pen won 21.3% of the votes on Sunday, behind Macron’s 24.01% and her campaign immediately sent an email to supporters urging them to spread social-media tailored messages on the “real Macron”.
“The real Macron is the establishment’s candidate,” one of those messages said.
Melenchon got 19.64% on Sunday and, though a fervent opponent of Le Pen for years, he has so far refused to say who he will back in the run-off. Le Pen’s anti-establishment, anti-globalisation chord could resonate with some of his voters.
At a bar in northern Paris, where Melenchon held his electoral night vigil, his supporters were split on the issue.
While some said they might back Le Pen, a Harris Interactive poll suggested they represented a minority: some 52% of Melenchon supporters would back Macron in the run-off, 36% would abstain and only 12% would vote for Le Pen.
Analysts said Le Pen might find more support amid right-wing voters worried by security issues and Europe’s open borders, who backed either conservative Francois Fillon or nationalist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan in the first round and might balk at backing Macron, a moderate centrist.
“I fought against [Socialist President Francois] Hollande for five years and cannot back his heir,” said 28-year-old parliamentary assistant Eric de La Fouchardiere, referring to Macron, a former adviser and minister of Hollande’s, at an election night gathering on Sunday.
He would not heed Fillon’s call to back Macron and would either vote Le Pen or spoil his ballot, he said.
A Harris Interactive poll showed 47% of Fillon’s voters would back Macron while 23% would vote for Le Pen.
While Le Pen failed to make her trademark themes of immigration, security and terrorism the core of the first campaign, the FN’s Dussausaye said it would be an important theme between the two rounds.
Hitting that angle in Rouvroy, Le Pen, after urging “all patriots” on Sunday to rally behind her, on Monday handed out leaflets in which she pledged to “eradicate Islamist terrorism” and expel “Islamist foreigners”.
“But it just doesn’t seem enough to win,” said Gilles Ivaldi, a Nice University researcher into the FN, in comments echoed by pollsters.
Opinion polls on Monday saw Macron attracting at least 60% of the votes on May 7.
Sylvain Crepon, an FN specialist at Tours university, says Le Pen cannot bridge the gap with Macron this time, but pressing those themes is vital for the party’s future and its role in the reorganising of a political landscape shaken by a campaign which has seen both the major left-wing and right-wing parties tumble.
“They’re preparing for afterwards, for 2022,” Crepon said, referring to the next presidential election.
“Macron is paradoxically the best opponent for Le Pen. Not in terms of second round score, because he was the one [out of the first round contenders] seen beating her most heavily, but because, since everybody is backing him in France and in Europe, she can bill him as the establishment, globalisation candidate and present herself as the best alternative,” he said.