National Front Leaders Start to Acknowledge That Le Pen May Lose

  • Candidate’s niece says 40% score would be ‘enormous victory’
  • Front’s Marine Le Pen emerged as loser of televised debate

How Marine Le Pen Took Control of the Far Right

National Front leaders are beginning to acknowledge that Marine Le Pen may be headed for defeat in Sunday’s presidential election after she failed to land the decisive blow she needs to overhaul Emmanuel Macron in Wednesday’s television debate.

Scoring 40 percent in the runoff “would be an enormous victory,” the candidate’s niece and a fellow National Front lawmaker Marion Marechal-Le Pen, told website Boursorama Thursday. Such a result “would position us particularly well to be the opposition or perhaps even the majority” in elections for the National Assembly in June, she added.

Macron, 39, who campaigned near Toulouse in southern France on Thursday, has a lead of 22 percentage points, according to the latest OpinionWay poll published after the rivals clashed in the televised debate with 48-year-old Le Pen calling her rival the candidate of “savage globalization” and Macron countering that she is “unworthy” of leading France.

Marechal-Le Pen insisted “we can still win” even as she lowered the party’s expectations for the presidential runoff.

French bonds rose after the debate, with the spread between 10-year yields and similarly dated German bunds shrinking 4 basis points to 44 points at 5:24 p.m. on Thursday, the narrowest it’s been this year.

A separate snap survey after the debate showed two thirds of respondents rated Macron as the winner. Macron filed a complaint for alleged slander on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Paris prosecutor said, after Le Pen said in the debate that she hoped Macron has no bank account in the Bahamas.

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Three days before the vote, Macron received the support of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who posted a video on the former economy minister’s website saying he was “rooting” for Macron. “I’ve admired the campaign that Emmanuel Macron has run. He stood up for liberal values,” Obama said, praising him as someone who “appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears.”

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, also tweeted his backing for Macron “to reform Europe from inside” and “for a strong and European France.” Le Pen has threatened an exit from the euro, reversing 60 years of European integration.

Le Pen struck a defiant tone as she addressed supporters near Amiens in northern France Thursday night, rejecting the criticism of her debate performance.

“The hatred that was poured on me, on us, on the people, on their concerns, was unprecedented,” she said. “The elites don’t accept that the people try to eat at the table of power.”

Cross-Party Figures

Xavier Bertrand, a Republican who beat Le Pen to become regional president of northern Hauts-de-France in 2015, echoed Macron’s critique of the political establishment in a local newspaper interview, while vaunting his record of forging cross-party alliances.

“It’s a collective failure,” Bertrand told local newspaper L’Aisne Nouvelle. “The Socialist Party and the Republican right being kicked out of the second round means we haven’t managed to address people’s fears and anger. Everyone is responsible, including me, since I was a minister at one point.”

On the campaign trail visiting a transport company in Brittany, Le Pen was greeted by protesters who shouted hostile slogans and threw eggs at her. She was also criticized by her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who described the debate as a tie.

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“I found the first half hour pretty boring and probably incomprehensible for the big majority of viewers,” Le Pen’s father told RTL radio. “That’s perhaps good for Emmanuel Macron, but it wasn’t good for Marine Le Pen who lacked stature.”

Adelaide Zulfikarpasic, a pollster at BVA, said on Thursday that Macron was the candidate most named online with more than a million references over the past 24 hours, including during the debate, while Marine Le Pen was cited more than 800,000 times.

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