After the first round of the French presidential elections, Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal was in a difficult position. She had been outpolled by Nicolas Sarkozy, her run-off rival, by 31 percent to 26 percent, and she had no hope of making inroads among the 11 percent who voted for right-wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. Thus, everything now depended on her ability to woo centrist voters, a large chunk of whom had voted for Francois Bayrou (18 percent of the vote).
Bayrou was not anxious to support either Royal or Sarkozy. Instead, he wanted them to debate him. Sarkozy took the sensible position that any debate should be between those still in the running. He therefore challenged Royal to a debate. However, the more desperate and opportunistic Royal agreed to exchange views with Bayrou. You can find a good account of that encounter here, on the blog of the German Marshall Fund (hat-tip Chris Cillizza). The short version is that Bayrou and Royal are far apart on economic issues, and Bayrou apparently will endorse neither run-off candidate.
Even so, Royal cannot be counted out. She continues to try to patch together a winning coaltiion by promising new give-aways and an expansion of existing give-away programs. Sarkozy, by contrast, is largely eschewing new, last minute promises. His attitude and his rhetoric are captured in this piece by Anne Applebaum.
Sarkozy’s approach worries some of his supporters, but I think he’s being wise. France will be difficult enough for him to govern without promising measures that would undercut his efforts to make the country less statist. Sarkozy is young enough to run again, if necessary, on a platform of “picking up the pieces” Royal is likely to leave behind.
Moreover, Sarkozy may not be paying much of a price for not over-promising. According to the German Marshall Fund blog, the latest polls have him leading 53-54 percent to 46-47 percent.
With Bayrou out of the way, the two candidates will debate tomorrow.
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