Melenchon Gains in French Race as Poll Sees Macron-Le Pen Tie

  • Republican and Communist-backed candidates hold Sunday rallies
  • Le Pen Says France not responsible for 1942 Jewish roudup

JPMorgan's Stubbs Sees Risk Rising in French Election

French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon rallied his supporters on Sunday as multiple polls suggested the Communist-backed candidate is gaining momentum with two weeks of campaigning left.

A Kantar Sofres poll published late Sunday showed Melenchon with the support of 18 percent of the electorate, 1 point ahead of Republican Francois Fillon. Independent Emmanuel Macron and National Front leader Marine Le Pen were tied in first place with 24 percent support. The Bloomberg poll composite gives Melenchon 18 percent, compared with less than 12 percent on March 20.

Jean-Luc Melenchon arrives at the Old Port of Marseille on April 9.

Photographer: Boris Horvat/AFP via Getty Images

With National Front head Marine Le Pen and Macron leading the field, the race remains wide open, with material swings in support possible in the final days.

“There have always been late deciders, but what’s happening is that now the late vote doesn’t necessarily reflect the breakdown of the polling that preceded it,” said Edouard Lecerf, director of polling at Kantar Public in Paris. “The late vote these days is providing a twist on the state of things in previous weeks.”

Fillon held a rally in Paris where he asked all 577 Republican candidates for the legislative elections to join him -- a dig at Macron, who has started a party and doesn’t have all his candidates in place. Pollsters including Lecerf say Fillon may benefit on Election Day from a reserve of supporters who return to their traditional partisan loyalties at the last minute.

Even so, the former front-runner has significant ground to make up and only a hint of momentum. The Journal du Dimanche titled its article on his rally “Fillon believes in a miracle.” Fillon used his unpopularity to his advantage, saying “I’m not asking you to like me, but I ask for your support because it’s in the interest of France,” and then he went on to attack his rivals.

“I saw that Emmanuel Macron is claiming that he offers profound change,” Fillon told supporters at the Paris rally. “Those who are coming to support him are being fooled. When he names his team the Socialists will reappear and the loser will be France.”

Fillon also attacked Melenchon for the first time.

While Macron trails Le Pen in the composite polling by 23.3 percent to 23.8 percent for the first round, he’s considered the front-runner because surveys suggest he’d win a runoff against the National Front leader. The Kantar Sofres poll showed that Fillon and Melenchon would also defeat Le Pen in a runoff. The second-round vote is on May 7.

One sign of Melenchon’s momentum is that Macron has begun attacking him. The Macron campaign’s Twitter feed released a clip Sunday that suggests Melenchon can’t keep his campaign pledges, an argument echoed in a France 3 television interview Sunday.

“Jean-Luc Melenchon -- he’s a very nice guy but his promises are impossible to deliver and his program would be a disaster for France,” Macron said. “He’s for the destruction of the European Union, the Europe that protects us. He is for massive taxation. Personally, I don’t know how you create jobs without companies.”

Melenchon addressed supporters in Marseille, portraying himself as the candidate of peace and criticizing President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for backing U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

“If you want peace, be careful with your vote,” he said. “We’ve seen the president and his German counterpart give their full backing to the criminal and irresponsible act of the president of the United States. Remember these days when you go to vote.”

Meanwhile Le Pen said Sunday that France is not responsible for the 1942 “Vel d’Hiv" roundup in which more than 13,000 Jews were arrested to be deported to Nazi concentration camps. A third of the group were children.

“I think France is not responsible for the Vel d’Hiv," Le Pen said during an interview on RTL radio. “I think in a general way, more generally actually, those responsible were those in power then, this is not France.”

On July 16 and 17, 1942, French police officers arrested the group of Jews in and around Paris at the request of the Nazi German authorities and stationed them in the Drancy’s cycle racing arena known as Vel d’Hiv, before deporting them to concentration camps.

In July 1995, French President Jacques Chirac apologized for the action and admitted the responsibility of the French state, contradicting a previous official line according to which the authorities based in Vichy, France, during the Second World War didn’t represent the true country.

“France has been mistreated in minds for years," Le Pen said. “In reality, our children have been taught they had every reason to criticize it, to see only its darkest aspects," she also said. “I want them to be proud to be French again."

— With assistance by Helene Fouquet

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