Macron seeks to revive a lackluster campaign and push back Le Pen’s return

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  • The French vote on Sunday in the first round of the presidential election
  • Le Pen continues to push to detoxify its image
  • Macron struggles to revive lackluster campaign

SPEZET, France, April 5 (Reuters) – Strolling through a small town in northwestern France, beaming at crowds shouting “Macron President!”, Emmanuel Macron sought to revive a lackluster campaign whose outcome more uncertain rocked the markets on Tuesday.

Macron still leads in opinion polls, but his far-right and eurosceptic rival Marine Le Pen has narrowed the gap, and a poll on Monday put victory within the margin of error, baffling the public. investors ahead of Sunday’s first round.

While Le Pen’s ratings have been bolstered by months of prospecting in small constituencies, the 44-year-old president, who has only just started his campaign, has spent hours talking with voters in the city’s main square. Breton from Spezet, taking selfies amid cheers and a handful of boos.

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“You can count on me… on my determination. I will, in the days and weeks to come, seek, one by one, the confidence of our compatriots, to (have the mandate to continue) to act in the years to come for our country, for Europe,” he said.

Macron easily beat Le Pen five years ago with two-thirds of the vote in the second round. But although polls seeing the two qualify this time also for the second round on April 24, they put Macron’s lead at just 3-6 points – the former being within the margin of error.

France’s benchmark CAC-40 index lost ground sharply on Tuesday, with traders citing election jitters, as the spread between French and German 10-year government bonds was at its widest in two years.

“The markets woke up to Le Pen,” said Jerome Legras, head of research at Axiom Alternative Investments.

LE PEN’S IMAGE SOFTENING

Since his defeat in 2017, Le Pen has patiently worked to soften his image, striving to appear as a potential leader rather than a radical anti-system opponent. Read more

Polls show it worked on a growing number of voters, with one poll indicating the once reviled candidate has become the country’s second most popular politician.

The candidacy of Eric Zemmour, who is even more to the right than Le Pen, has, on the other hand, helped Le Pen to appear more acceptable to voters.

“I always try to have the most reasonable point of view possible, and one that defends the interests of France,” she told France Inter radio.

Le Pen continued to improve his pre-first round poll, to 23% against 27% for Macron, according to two polls published on Tuesday.

However, some 59% of those polled expected Macron to win a second term, according to the poll by OpinionWay and Kéa Partners for the daily Les Echos and Radio Classique, still the most likely scenario across all surveys.

Macron focused a half-hour speech in Spezet on the crucial importance of Europe to France – pointing out, without naming it, Le Pen’s lingering euroscepticism.

“Projects that turn their backs on Europe are harmful and deadly… for our future”, he said, concluding with a resounding: “Long live France, and long live Europe!”

While she abandoned plans to exit the euro, which had put off many voters in the past, Le Pen’s platform aims to hollow out the European Union by giving pre-eminence to French law and replace the block by a “European Alliance of Nations”.

“A victory for Le Pen would almost certainly worsen public finances and put a question mark over France’s place in Europe, confusing investors,” Jessica Hinds of Capital Economics said in a note.

EARLY CAMPAIGN

Le Pen, who has gone to great lengths to emphasize his love of cats more than his anti-immigration views, has not changed the core of his far-right party’s platform.

It would end a number of social aids for foreigners, stop family reunification, give preference to the French for jobs and social housing, ban the hijab in public spaces and expel unemployed foreigners from France. Read more

She defended those views on Tuesday.

“Being French should give you more rights than being a foreigner,” she said.

But that’s not what she focused on in a campaign pegged to purchasing power, which struck a chord with many voters.

“I am campaigning seriously, I have been in the field for six months… Others have chosen not to campaign, including the president of the republic,” Le Pen told France Inter.

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Additional reporting by Julien Ponthus, Sudip Kar-Gupta; Written by Ingrid Melander, edited by Ed Osmond, Hugh Lawson and Nick Macfie

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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