Emmanuel Macron will go to northern France’s industrial heartlands, a blue-collar bastion of his far-right adversary Marine Le Pen, whom he will face in a presidential runoff on April 24.
In Sunday’s first-round vote, Macron and Le Pen came out on top, setting up a rematch of the 2017 runoff between the pro-European economic liberal and the euroskeptic nationalist.
Left-wing voters will be critical in determining the election’s result. Hard-left veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon, the third-placed contender, warned supporters that no one vote should go to the extreme right, but he stopped short of backing Macron.
“Let’s be clear: nothing has been decided yet,” Macron told his adoring fans late Sunday, as preliminary results indicated he would advance to the runoff.
Macron received 27.60 percent of the vote with 97 percent of the votes collected, according to the interior ministry. Le Pen received 23.41 percent of the vote, while Melenchon received 21.95 percent.
According to polls, the second round will be a close call, with one study predicting Macron will win with 51% of the vote to Le Pen’s 49%. The margin of error is so small that a win in either direction is possible.
Macron took aim at his far-right competitor over the funding of her economic platform, which includes lowering the retirement age to 60 for people who start working before the age of 20, eliminating income tax for individuals under the age of 30, and lowering the VAT on energy from 20% to 5.5 percent.
At a time when France is likewise lurching to the right in the aftermath of Islamist terrorism, Le Pen has pulled her far-right party’s image closer to the mainstream. Her gentler, less aggressive demeanour, however, hides a tough anti-immigrant agenda.
As she travelled towns and villages across France, her focus on the cost-of-living concerns that plague millions has helped her tap into broad frustration with authorities.
According to Le Pen, voters are choosing between two visions of France: “one of separation, injustice, and chaos imposed by Emmanuel Macron for the advantage of a few, and the other of a rallying of French people behind social justice and protection.”
In the northern Hauts-de-France region, where Macron is campaigning on Monday, Le Pen received 33% of the vote, while left-wing candidates came in second with 27-28 percent of the vote.
Some Macron supporters and campaign officials believe he has to do more to win over the left.
Clementine Autain, a Melenchon ally, told RMC radio that she hoped Melenchon voters would not vote for Le Pen, but that Macron’s record and platform did not appeal to leftists.
“Macron does not defend France from far-right takeover,” she claimed.
Macron will travel to Strasbourg on Tuesday, where Melenchon received a high rating.