In the jockeying to become the next French President, ex-Prime Minister Michel Rocard is leaping ahead of his chief rival for the Socialist nomination, European Commission President Jacques Delors. That's because of a back-room deal to replace the party's resigning boss, Pierre Mauroy. A Delors backer was expected to get the job. But Rocard has apparently won it for a key former rival, Laurent Fabius, in exchange for Fabius' support in the presidential race. Some party brass now call Rocard their "virtual candidate" to succeed Socialist President Fran‡ois Mitterrand, who may depart before his term ends in 1995. Recession--plus weariness with Mitterrand--is boosting the fortunes of the top rightist candidates: Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac and former President Val‚ry Giscard d'Estaing.

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