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LONGUEAU, France — Forget home field advantage.
In this economically weak area of northern France near which Emmanuel Macron grew up, there is not much love for the local boy who went on to become one of his country’s youngest presidents.
On the contrary, several locals described him as a wealthy man who had nothing to do with the everyday concerns of “little people”. Some said they plan to vote for his rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, in the final round of the April 24 presidential election.
“I really don’t like Macron. He’s a rich man’s president,” said retired account Didier Balesdens while queuing at the market in Longueau, on the outskirts of the northern city of Amiens, where Macron spent his childhood. “He loaned money to big companies during the pandemic, but couldn’t he have taken some of their profits to help people?”
Balesdens, who voted for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first ballot, does not feel comfortable voting for Le Pen and worries about the tensions her immigration policies would cause if she became president. But his hatred of Macron and “his inability to understand little people” trump those concerns and could persuade him to vote for Le Pen in the final round.
Such disdain on his home turf underscores the bigger challenges facing Macron.
Despite beating Le Pen by five percentage points in the first ballot last Sunday, Macron must now persuade a much broader constituency – namely left-wing voters – to support him in the runoff. But if Balesdens and others like him are ready to move to the extreme right, Macron could face a much closer race against Le Pen than he did in 2017, not just in his home region but across the country. (POLITICO poll expects Macron to defeat Le Pen with 53 percent of the vote.)
FRANCE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION POLL
For more survey data from across Europe, see POLITICS poll of polls.
Aware of the challenge, Macron has rushed to soften his image ahead of the finals. He has backtracked on his proposal to move the retirement age to 65 and has offered to reinstate unvaccinated nurses suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Balesdens and others like him are unconvinced by the last-minute changes. Hostility towards Macron was widespread this week among locals speaking to POLITICO in Longueau, a short drive from Macron’s birthplace in the Somme department.
“He didn’t leave good memories here,” Longueau mayor and left-wing independent Pascal Ourdouillé said, recalling Macron’s failed attempt to keep a local Whirlpool factory running. Even if Macron’s government boasts that it has reduced unemployment to its own lowest level since 2008it’s local job losses that made the headlines here.
The closure of the white goods factory during Macron’s tenure became a symbol of his fight to keep industrial jobs in France. During the campaign for the 2017 presidential election, both Le Pen and Macron met with Whirlpool workers and vowed to try to keep the plant open if elected.
“He came here, put on a show, made promises and didn’t keep them,” said Ourdouillé, who recalls the factory closing in 2018 despite several rescue attempts.
National Rally Incursions
Others in Longueau said that despite their disappointment, they would hold their noses and support Macron in the second round.
“I don’t like either, but especially Le Pen,” says retiree Jacqueline Mast, a leftist. “Macron doesn’t blow my mind. He makes promises and breaks them, but the far right and their hatred of foreigners – no thanks.”
Mast commemorates leftists such as Socialist Mayor of Paris Anne Hildalgo and the Greens’ Yannick Jadot urging voters to vote for Macron to keep the far right out of power after being knocked out in the first round.
In 2017, Macron benefited from the so-called “Republican Front” against the far right, in which left-wing voters, opposed to a far-right candidate coming to power, vote for the other camp despite their reservations.
But this time things are not quite so simple. Le Pen’s National Rally Party is pushing into low-income towns like Longueau.
Ten years ago, the former railroad commuter town voted overwhelmingly for the Socialist Party. In Sunday’s first ballot, 27 percent backed Le Pen versus 23 percent for Macron.
Many here say that Le Pen’s strategy of detoxing the Rally National is helping her. Not only has she dropped unpopular commitments to leave the EU and toned down her anti-immigration rhetoric, but she has pursued a more sober agenda, championing bread-and-butter issues and promising to lift taxes on staple foods and cutting fuel amid runaway inflation.
“[Her proposals] have an echo here. Rail workers do not have high wages and have been hit hard by inflation,” said Joël Brunet, a retired teacher and communist.
In the last presidential election in Longueau, 60 percent of voters voted against Le Pen for Macron in a runoff, even though only 23 percent voted for him in the first ballot. Brunet thinks it is unlikely that Macron will benefit from the same support this time.
“I don’t think it’s going to go in Le Pen’s favour, but it’s going to be a lot closer,” he said.
“It’s getting annoying that every time we have to vote for a candidate that we don’t endorse, just to keep the far right out of power,” he said.
Back in the mayor’s office, Ourdouillé is confident that the record will fall in Macron’s favor nationwide in the second ballot on April 24.
“I’m not worried at all. He’s going to beat them 52 to 48,” he said.
Some would prefer stronger odds.
https://www.politico.eu/article/emmanuel-macron-france-president-election-2022-longueau-rich-man-faces-contempt/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication "Rich man" Macron despised on home turf - POLITICO