Macron Gets Fresh Endorsement as Fillon Faces Extended Probe

  • Bayrou backing helps independent gain 6-point lead over Fillon
  • Socialist Caresche cites Le Pen risk in difficult decision

Emmanuel Macron won his third endorsement in less than a week, giving the independent renewed momentum in polls that suggested he was again the favorite to become France’s next president as Republican Francois Fillon faced the prospect of an extended judicial investigation.

Christophe Caresche, a Socialist lawmaker, said in a Sunday newspaper article that he will abandon his party’s nominee to back Macron, joining former green party lawmaker Francois de Rugy and Francois Bayrou, a centrist politician who ran for president in the past three elections, in supporting the former economy minister.

Emmanuel Macron on Feb. 25.

Photographer: Pascal Lachenaud/AFP via Getty Images

In a race that has seen multiple front-runners since last summer, the 39-year-old Macron is vying with Fillon, a former prime minister, for the second slot in the May 7 run-off vote. The nationalist Marine Le Pen is favored to win the first round but is seen losing decisively in the final ballot.

Fresh surveys show endorsements are helping Macron recover from gaffes related to France’s colonial past and gay marriage that set back his campaign. Macron would get 25 percent support if the first round of voting were held now, compared with 27 percent for Le Pen and 19 percent for Fillon, an Odoxa Dentsu poll published Sunday showed.

‘Spectacular Increase’

“That’s a spectacular increase. It’s the first time that Macron is six points ahead of Fillon,” Odoxa pollster Gael Sliman said on France 2 television. “Is it sustainable? It remains to be seen. Many things can still happen,” he said.

Like Bayrou, Caresche said that Macron’s ability to win was crucial to his decision back the campaign. He also mentioned Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon’s choices on nuclear power as well as environmental and constitutional issues.

“This wasn’t an easy decision, I owe everything to the Socialist Party starting with my political career,” Caresche said in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche. “For a man of the left, Emmanuel Macron is the only way to effectively counter Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election. The promises of Benoit Hamon are incompatible with a large union of French people against Le Pen. That’s a risk that personally I don’t want to take.”

Macron would defeat Le Pen by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent in the run-off ballot, compared with 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent for Fillon, according to the Odoxa poll.

Merkel Meeting

Macron scored another victory this weekend with the announcement that he will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in mid March. He will dine Sunday with Jean-Louis Borloo, a former environment minister under Fillon, in the quest for another endorsement.

Fillon, meanwhile, is struggling to put to rest a scandal about the employment of his wife and children as parliamentary aides over the course of more than three decades in politics.

French prosecutors extended the probe of Fillon, saying further investigation is needed and pushing any conclusion until after the election. Prosecutors said that after the police conducted inquiries they decided to put an investigative judge in charge the preliminary probe “given the longstanding nature of some of the events concerned.”

While the latest twist in Fillon’s case gives opponents a continued line of attack with just two months to go until the election, the decision also suggests charges won’t be brought before voters decide who should be France’s next president.

The Republican isn’t alone in facing legal issues. Le Pen refused to be interviewed by police last week for an investigation into her use of a European parliamentary allowance to pay for party work in France, said her lawyer, Rodolphe Bosselut. Bosselut urged prosecutors to back off until after the election to avoid interfering with the democratic process.

“We are seeing a sudden rush in the procedure which relates to an old complaint,” Bosselut said in a telephone interview. “You have to ask why everything is accelerating and madame has been summoned two months before a major election date.”

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