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BAGNÈRES-DE-BIGORRE, France — Emmanuel Macron smelled a bit of native ham and popped it into his mouth with delight, then sang a conventional tune with the dozen villagers sitting with him beside a street nestled within the Pyrenees.
It was a folksier facet to the usually buttoned-up French president however he was on acquainted turf, close to his cherished grandmother’s dwelling on this mountain area the place he frolicked as a toddler.
“The Pyrenees are lands I’m very connected to, I’ve reminiscences right here and household nonetheless round right here, in addition to mates,” Macron mentioned. “I do know these landscapes very nicely.”
His journey to the heartlands final week left little doubt: Macron’s bid for reelection is nicely underway, regardless that he received’t formally announce his run till subsequent 12 months, after the launch of France’s presidency of the EU Council in January.
Macron’s go to to Bagnères-de-Bigorre was the fifth cease on a private tour of France that began in June, coinciding with the Tour de France biking race. It supplied the president, who is commonly criticized as boastful and disconnected, the possibility to look extra accessible, surrounded by native mates and having fun with one of many nation’s hottest sporting occasions.
In taking “the heart beat of the road,” as his advisers describe these visits, Macron has come head to head with the 2 largest obstacles he should surmount to defeat his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen and different potential rivals: the coronavirus pandemic and a nagging lack of readability amongst voters over what Macron actually stands for.
With Le Pen nearly sure to be his second-round opponent within the April 2022 election, regardless of a surge in assist for mainstream events in latest regional votes, the stakes might hardly be larger: the far proper has by no means scored so excessive in opinion polls this near a presidential election. All polls put Macron and Le Pen neck-and-neck within the first spherical of the election, with Macron profitable within the run-off by solely 12 proportion factors. In 2017, Macron received with a roughly 32 level lead on Le Pen.
Even on this a part of France the place Macron’s assist usually runs excessive, some who turned out to see him mentioned they have been nonetheless not sure.
“I’m ready to listen to what he tells us right now, what he has in thoughts shifting ahead,” mentioned Vivian, a middle-aged special-needs educator, simply earlier than Macron arrived for the spherical of ham tasting and chanson.
A few of Macron’s shut advisers concede that finally he could also be his personal hardest opponent — by no means too removed from uttering impromptu remarks that postpone constituents by making him appear indifferent or simply plain dislikeable.
On Thursday, he got here shut when he mentioned, in essence, that these in France who refuse to be vaccinated have been successfully failing the nation.
“All of us have the identical rights however every particular person has their share of obligation as a result of the liberty of the person relies on the civic obligation of others, that’s what being a nation is,” Macron instructed reporters when requested about protests over his push to make vaccination a requirement for entry to many public and leisure areas.
FRANCE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION POLL OF POLLS
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With a fourth coronavirus wave underway and threatening to derail the financial restoration that could possibly be important to his reelection effort, Macron final week mentioned the vaccine would grow to be obligatory for well being employees, and all residents would want proof of vaccination, or a destructive take a look at, to enter eating places, or journey on planes and trains.
The president is betting closely on an financial upturn.
With a well-rehearsed stump speech, Macron has hit the street highlighting coverage adjustments applied earlier than the pandemic and the €100 billion authorities bailout program he has put in place to juice the economic system because the virus struck.
Macron’s aim is to instill confidence in his means to steer the nation by the following part of the disaster, thereby persuading voters to grant him one other five-year time period.
“We handed reforms that have been generally unpopular,” Macron instructed staff at an industrial plant in Bagnères-de-Bigorre. “It’s what made France aggressive to draw investments.”
The plant is owned by Spanish firm CAF, which manufactures rail tools and has invested €25 million within the web site, aiming to create 250 jobs over the following three years.
“We’re supporting this manufacturing facility by Relaunch France and for the lengthy haul,” Macron mentioned, referring to a authorities funding of greater than €700,000 within the manufacturing facility by the restoration fund. “I assist you.”
Voters aren’t so certain they’ll reciprocate.
At the very least twice on earlier stops, Macron got here head to head with the virulent antipathy he conjures up amongst some in France.
In June, he was slapped by a person figuring out as a right-wing “patriot” outdoors an expert highschool in a small southeastern city. On one other go to, a father of two unemployed youths attacked Macron.
“Disabused France!” the middle-aged man shouted. He was complaining that regardless of having funded his youngsters’s schooling, they have been nonetheless jobless and residing at dwelling. “Properly carried out Macron! You received’t final for much longer!”
To counter such hostility, the authorities has launched a web site quantifying the progress of native companies throughout the nation, like web connectivity and preventing violence towards girls. The Elysée now has a month-to-month publication that rounds up “excellent news and citizen initiatives that assist France shine.” It’s titled “cock-a-doodle-doo,” a reference to the nation’s rooster nationwide image.
Marketing campaign tactic and themes
Macron has set out three themes for the remainder of his time period: financial restoration, reform, and social welfare. They intention to succeed in out to the varied mixture of center-left, center-right and green-tinged voters that he’ll have to win over to safe a second mandate.
His probabilities for reelection will in all probability come right down to his means to mobilize them as he did in 2017, by ticking a disparate array of bins.
To that finish, the president has moved sharply to the proper on crime, safety and Islamism, whereas additionally banking left by joking round with hip younger YouTubers about medication, passing progressive laws on gender rights and promising to proceed beneficiant authorities handouts to assist the pandemic-battered economic system.
These please-all ways are an enormous gamble as he faces Le Pen’s extra targeted right-wing nationalist message, though she too is trying to increase her populist base to tempt extra conventional conservative voters who’re disaffected with Macron.
Macron supporters hope a head-to-head match-up with Le Pen will imply mainstream voters will overlook any political zig-zagging to repudiate the far-right as they did 4 years in the past.
But, even some near Macron say he faces a brand new threat that ambivalent voters, particularly on the left, won’t trouble to forged a poll. Others fed up with the pandemic might vote for anybody however the incumbent.
“I imagine there’s a risk of a revolt by the poll bins, a vote based mostly on temper somewhat than cause,” acknowledged a Macron-supporting senator, who added: “Barring a greater choice, I’ll reelect him.”
There are indicators most of the people isn’t feeling as beneficiant.
Report numbers abstained within the regional elections held final month and Macron’s celebration, which hasn’t succeeded in constructing a strong native base, was routed. That’s added to concern left-of-center voters, who have been essential in serving to Macron win in 2017, are so disillusioned that they may keep dwelling in 2022 even when their abstention lets Le Pen sneak in.
“For the primary time, voters might actually abstain, as a result of Macron’s presidential time period was extraordinarily divisive on socioeconomic points,” mentioned Mathieu Gallard, analysis director on the Ipsos polling institute. “If he turns into divisive on id and immigration, left-wing voters received’t have many good causes to assist him within the run-off like they did in 2017.”
Unease behind the scenes
Behind Macron’s efforts to venture a way of management and optimism, there’s trepidation within the halls of presidency.
“Nobody in authorities anticipated this pandemic to final this lengthy,” mentioned a former minister who requested anonymity to talk extra freely. “I’m dreading what is going to occur, the bankruptcies, after we’re going to start out reducing authorities help simply because the presidential marketing campaign shall be kicking off in 2022.”
The president himself, nevertheless, just isn’t exhibiting any self-doubt.
“What Macron says privately is that those that voted for him will vote for him once more,” mentioned the senator who has mentioned the problem with the president and requested for anonymity to share particulars of the dialog.
For now, Macron is specializing in the somewhat constructive response he’s getting on his thinly-veiled marketing campaign path.
In Lourdes, the final cease on his travels final week, a person in a crowd of over 1,000 outdoors the city’s famed Roman Catholic sanctuary approached the president to thank him.
“You’re doing a exceptional job,” he mentioned. “Even when many suppose the other. I heartily congratulate you.”