Macron outlined his plans for “changing life” in rural communities in Figeac’s historic market square, borrowing a phrase from France’s first Socialist President Francois Mitterand in a bid to reach left-wing voters. He called for “unity” and “balance,” and said he never resorted to hate during his campaign. Waving European and French flags, the crowd sang the national anthem when he finished speaking.
In the town of Etaples, Le Pen said that Macron was trying to “brutalize” her during Wednesday’s presidential debate and that “the disdain” he showed her was reflective of how he sees the French.
The gap between the two of them has widened since April 10 to around 11 percentage points, according to a polling average on Friday, as Le Pen’s weaknesses on the economy became more apparent and politicians on the left and right rallied around Macron. He is also benefiting from his stature of experienced statesman amid Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Le Pen needed to land a major blow in the presidential debate on Wednesday night to catch up, but failed to do so. The much-hyped head-to-head was ultimately uneventful and didn’t appear to help either candidate win over new voters, or cost them many. A snap survey published afterward suggested viewers found Macron somewhat more convincing. Markets were reassured.
Yet their different world views came into sharp focus, especially on Europe. Le Pen says she wants to transform the European Union into an alliance of nations. Macron said her ties to Russia and other Euroskeptics would wreck the bloc from within. He wants to continue to strengthen the EU by enhancing unity on issues from health to defense.
European leaders are following the election closely, and with concern. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called on voters not to back Le Pen while stopping short of explicitly endorsing Macron, in a joint column published in several newspapers on Thursday.
The choice is between the incumbent who values “democracy, sovereignty, freedom and the rule of law” and a nationalist who sides with autocratic rulers like Vladimir Putin who has awakened “memories of Europe’s darkest times,” they said.
Macron is leading Le Pen 56.2% to 43.8%, according to a polling average calculated by Bloomberg on April 21. That would give him a narrower margin of victory than five years ago. But if Le Pen gets more than 40% of the vote, she’d likely emerge empowered while he might have a harder time implementing his reform agenda, depending on how parliamentary elections turn out in June.
During a stop in Roye, Somme, on Thursday Le Pen returned to her the bread and butter issues that have been her focus throughout the campaign, posing for photos and signing posters with truck drivers. She said she wants to be the president of people who “struggle,” and called on voters to cast ballots with their “reason” and “hearts.”
The president was in the country’s most diverse department, Seine-Saint-Denis, near Paris, in a clear attempt to court French “beavers” — the left-leaning voters who have been building “dams” to prevent the far-right from taking power.
“It’s not over yet,” Macron said, calling on all his supporters to try to convince as many people as possible to back him. “We shouldn’t get used to the advance of far-right ideas.”
Green leader Yannick Jadot urged voters to back Macron “with no pleasure, but no hesitation” — in a sign that an informal cross party alliance against the far-right isn’t entirely crumbling despite Macron’s unpopularity among many on the left. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, while not explicitly endorsing the president, has said no one should give “a single vote” to Le Pen.