French election: Macron and Le Pen hit the road in the final hours of the campaign | French presidential election 2022

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have stepped up their campaign with a packed schedule of last-minute visits to lure floating voters as France’s hotly contested presidential race enters its final hours.

While voting takes place on Sunday, under French electoral rules, all campaigning and opinion polls must end by midnight Friday, and on Thursday the two candidates raced to save time on the road.

Le Pen traveled to Arras, in her northern stronghold, for a rally while Macron entered more hostile terrain in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, where radical left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon won more 60% of the vote in the first round almost two weeks ago.

On Wednesday evening, the two candidates took part in a nearly three-hour debate in which Macron narrowly emerged the winner, but which was also seen as unlikely to have changed the intentions of many voters, the president accused of being arrogant and Le Pen to lack credibility. as a potential leader.

During the rally, Le Pen returned to the clash of the previous evening, criticizing her rival. “I had in front of me an Emmanuel Macron who was very sure of himself, very contemptuous, very arrogant, including in his posture,” she said. “It didn’t surprise any French people, I don’t think.”

The far-right candidate said Macron’s re-election would bring “social devastation”. “He won’t be limited by anything anymore…it would be even worse than the first term,” she said. “I will explain to them [the French] another choice is possible. They must vote by listening to their reason and their heart.

Marine Le Pen poses for a photo in a truck stop restaurant in Roye. Photography: Alain Robert/SIPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Macron was greeted by the socialist mayor of Saint-Denis, Mathieu Hanotin, who unlike others on the left called on voters on Sunday to support Macron.

The president has dismissed Le Pen’s accusations. “When you have no more arguments to counter [the issues] you have to look for something else,” he said.

Macron said the debate had been “respectful” but that “madam says a lot of weird things, between you and me”.

He added: “I think for people it is clear now. There is a project to strengthen Europe… and a project which means the end of Europe.

Le Pen’s agenda was “imprecise”, he said, and he wondered how she was going to finance it.

“Our compatriots will make their decision on Sunday. Until the last minute, nothing is decided,” he said.

Macron promised more investment in poor neighborhoods like Saint-Denis, including increased funding for schools and to help disadvantaged young people find work.

Hanotin said if Le Pen won on Sunday it would be a “catastrophe” for poor and socially mixed neighborhoods like Saint-Denis. “We have to focus on how we mobilize to choose the republic next Sunday. This is why, despite our differences, I supported Mr. Macron.

The debate is broadcast on a screen in a bar in Paris
The debate is broadcast on a screen in a Parisian bar. Photography: AFP/Getty Images

Wednesday’s marathon showdown between the two candidates was seen as a key moment ahead of Sunday’s vote. It was a rematch of the 2017 televised debate, during which the far-right leader turned aggressive. This time, Le Pen remained calm, although she still floundered from time to time. Le Monde compared Macron to a boa constrictor, slowly crushing his rival to death.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the debate was generally satisfactory. “If the presidential campaign itself was disappointing, here we saw the choice between two types of France, two different visions,” he told Europe 1 radio.

Jordan Bardella, the leader of Le Pen’s National Rally, accused Macron of being the “No. 1 hurler of public insults”, adding: “When he insults Marine Le Pen as his supporters do, he really insults French”.

Clément Beaune, the Minister for Europe, accused Le Pen of trying to organize a Frexit on the sly. “On this subject, it was clear that Marine Le Pen had no project and that she had just cut her Frexit into smaller pieces,” he said.

Gabriel Attal, government spokesman, said Le Pen had “changed style but not substance”. He accused her of wanting to “divide the French”, echoing Macron’s accusation that his plan to ban the Islamic headscarf in public places would provoke a “civil war” in the city’s suburbs.

About 15.6 million people watched the debate, down from 16.6 million in 2017. The figure does not include those watching online.

Pollster Elabe polled viewers after the debate and said 59% found Macron more convincing, compared to 39% for Le Pen. Among Mélenchon’s supporters, whose 7.7 million voters are chasing the two remaining candidates, the poll found 61% deeming Macron convincing to 36% for Le Pen. Only 29% of those questioned believed that the far-right leader had “the necessary qualities to be president”.

Macron was seen as more dynamic, slightly more sincere and having a better program than Le Pen. Half considered Macron more arrogant than his rival, while Le Pen was seen as “worrying” by around half.

Le Monde concluded that the debate was once again a failure for Le Pen. “Did she give the impression that she was ready to govern? asks Le Parisien in an editorial. “That’s the only question that matters. Judging by the debate, she did not dispel the doubts. Le Figaro said the debate would not have changed voters’ intentions.

An Opinion poll taken after the debate suggested Macron could win Sunday’s vote by 56% to 44%, a wider gap than expected before the showdown.

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