Fillon Campaign Stable in France After Near-Death Experience

  • Republican’s support on 18.5 percent for third straight day
  • Party heavyweights join Fillon in show of renewed strength

Fillon Vows to Stay in French Race, Victory Possible

Francois Fillon is reviving his fight to beat Emmanuel Macron to the French presidency after two weeks struggling to contain the fallout from a financial scandal.

Former Prime Minister Fillon returned to the campaign trail in Troyes, eastern France, on Tuesday flanked by former Finance Minister Francois Baroin after apologizing to voters in an hour-long press conference at the start of the week. He’s due to appear south of Paris Wednesday with another ex-premier, Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

Fillon, right, with Baroin, center, in Troyes, Feb. 7.

Photographer: Francois Nascimbeni/AFP via Getty Images

Opinion polls released Tuesday showed support for Fillon holding steady after tumbling by about a third since the first reports last month that his wife had earned a public salary as a parliamentary aide without doing any work. He remained about 2.5 percentage points behind Macron in the battle to face National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the run-off on May 7. Surveys suggest both Fillon and Macron would beat the anti-euro nationalist comfortably.

“My objective is full employment in France,” Fillon told supporters in Troyes, as he sought to change the subject from his family’s affairs. “That way we will recover confidence in ourselves.”

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Fillon, who began the year as front-runner in the French presidential contest, has seen his poll numbers slide after reports that he used public funds to pay his wife and children as parliamentary assistants during his years as a lawmaker. Many analysts and even some of his own lawmakers were predicting the scandal would end Fillon’s candidacy before his address on Monday.

Fillon’s plunge is just the latest twist in an election campaign that has already seen household names like President Francois Hollande and his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, fall by the wayside. The next one may be brewing on the outskirts of Paris, where disturbances continued for the sixth night into the early hours of Wednesday after a policemen was charged with raping a young black man last week.

Troubled Neighborhoods

While calm returned to the suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois following several nights of trouble, 17 people were arrested in neighboring towns for vandalism and arson, Agence France-Presse reported. The unrest is forcing candidates to take positions on issues of police violence and France’s troubled neighborhoods.

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon said Monday that the police actions were “unacceptable” while Le Pen said her “basic principle” is to support the police. She said she would wait to know the full facts before reaching any conclusions. Macron backed the courts to deliver justice to the victim and Fillon has yet to comment on the incident.

Aulnay-sous-Bois is just 6 kilometers (4 miles) away from Clichy-sous-Bois, where the death of two boys as they ran from a police identity check in October 2005 led to several weeks of rioting in troubled neighborhoods across France and a state of emergency in parts of the country.

‘It Could Work’

Fillon’s Monday’s press conference brought some stability to his campaign, confirming the broad lines of the allegations against him, while reminding voters that the arrangements were perfectly legal. Republican lawmaker Georges Fenech retreated from last week’s demand that Fillon step aside while conservative daily Le Figaro reported Wednesday on its front page that Fillon’s apology has quelled the unrest within the Republican camp.

The candidate repeated his mea culpa in a letter to voters published in the newspaper Ouest-France late on Tuesday, saying that he’d never been tainted by scandal during 32 years in public life, but that he’d made a “mistake” employing members of his family.

“Fillon has done everything to save his candidacy,” said Frederic Dabi, a pollster at research company Ifop. “It could work.”

On Tuesday, the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported that Penelope Fillon was awarded redundancy packages on two separate occasions when leaving posts as a parliamentary aide, the third straight week that the paper has published details of the family’s affairs. Fillon dismissed the report as “lies” in a statement and challenged the Canard’s calculations.

— With assistance by Helene Fouquet, and Marie Mawad

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