Juppe Attempts Comeback as French Republicans Chose Candidate

  • Fillon is now front-runner although race isn’t over: pollster
  • Primary victory hinges on who turns out for second-round vote

One week after Francois Fillon romped to victory in the first round of the French Republicans’ presidential primary process, Alain Juppe is looking to voters Sunday to propel him to a comeback.

The two former prime ministers advanced after five others, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, were eliminated in voting last week. Fillon, 62, defied expectations by winning 44 percent of the vote after polls showed him in third or fourth place for most of the campaign. Juppe, long the front-runner, was second with 29 percent.

Though the strength of his first-round win makes Fillon the favorite to win the nomination and go on to face the National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election, he doesn’t have the primary sewn up. Much depends on how many of Sarkozy’s supporters are ready to back a man their president once derided as an “assistant,” and how many others seek to block a candidate seen as too far to the right in France for both his economic platform and his stance on social issues.

“We need to be very cautious,” said Bernard Sananes, a pollster at Elabe in Paris. “A lot can happen: some on the right may decide to stay home -- Sarkozy supporters who are disappointed that their champion is no longer there. or others who feel that there is less suspense as to the outcome. The other risk is that other groups of voters mobilize.”

Initial results from Sunday’s vote should be announced around 9 p.m. in Paris.

Exceeded Predictions

Of the 4.3 million votes cast a week ago, Sarkozy won 21 percent. In conceding, he endorsed Fillon, 62, who was prime minister under Sarkozy between 2007 and 2012. The turnout in the Republicans’ first primary was about 1 million votes higher than pollsters were predicting.

Between 4.2 million and 4.6 million voters participated in the second round, according to an Elabe estimate for BFM TV.

Since then, the two men have fought hardest on social issues. The 71-year-old Juppe has questioned his opponent’s stance on abortion. Fillon, who opposes abortion, responded with outrage for what he called a low blow over beliefs that he said were personal and wouldn’t be imposed on others if he wins office.

“As a politician for 30 years, have you once heard Francois Fillon suggest that the right to interrupt pregnancies should be renounced?” Fillon said in a televised debate with Juppe on Nov. 24. “Haven’t I, over 30 years, voted for every law that has given women access to abortion? The response to your question is that obviously I won’t touch anything in this domain.”

Anti-Immigrant

With incumbent Socialist Francois Hollande near record lows in popularity for any French president, whoever wins is seen as most likely to qualify for the runoff vote in the election on May 7. For more than a year, almost every poll has shown Le Pen likely to reach the final stage. She is campaigning on an anti-immigrant, anti-euro platform.

Juppe’s collapse has been staggering. An Odoxa survey released on Nov. 22 said Fillon would garner 65 percent of votes to Juppe’s 35 percent, although interviews were done before the results of the first round were known. An OpinionWay poll of first-round voters conducted Sunday also projected a win for Fillon, by 56 percent to 44 percent.

Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux, continued his pitch to centrist voters in the latest debate, pitching his desire to “unite” all French citizens in a nation that is “happy and proud of its identity and its diversity.”

“It’s very tricky when you’re a candidate to change footing, to become challenger when you were front-runner,” Sananes said. Both candidates have tried to avoid going to far “because Sunday night, they know they will have to pose together again for a family photo.”

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