PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron and challenger Marine Le Pen will be back on the campaign trail on Thursday after the far-right candidate failed, in a high-stakes TV debate, to deliver the knockout blow she needed ahead of Sunday’s vote.
More than 15 million people watched the heated confrontation on Wednesday evening, the only debate of the campaign between the two final candidates. An Elabe poll for BFM TV showed viewers deemed a combative Macron arrogant but also found him convincing and more fit to be president.
Le Pen, who focused on expressing empathy with people she said had “suffered” since Macron was elected in 2017, was judged slightly more in tune with voters’ concerns but her far-right views were still considered much more worrying, the poll showed.
With surveys before the debate showing Macron was ahead in voting intentions for Sunday’s runoff with an estimated 55-56% of the votes, that was not good news for Le Pen, who came second to Macron in the 2017 presidential election.
“Did she give the impression she is ready to govern? It’s the only question that matters,” the widely-read Le Parisien said in an editorial on Thursday. “Judging by the debate, she did not dispel that doubt.”
For the conservative Le Figaro, the debate will not have changed voters’ minds.
Le Pen, Macron to face off in crunch TV election duel
Macron will be campaigning on Thursday in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis – a key target for both candidates which voted heavily for hard left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round.
Le Pen will head to northern France, with an evening rally in Arras, a town that voted slightly more for Macron in a region that is otherwise a far-right stronghold.
It is unclear if the last two days of campaigning will change any minds.
But after more than half of the electorate voted for far-right or hard left candidates in the first round on April 10, Macron’s lead in opinion polls, while growing, is much narrower than five years ago, when he beat Le Pen with 66.1% of the vote.
Supporters for both were on the offensive on Thursday morning, trying to win the narrative on how the debate went.
“Marine Le Pen is in real life, Macron is in the McKinsey cosmos,” National Rally spokesperson Julien Odoul tweeted, in a reference to the consultancy firm whose use by the government has emerged as a surprise issue in the campaign.