Analysis: Macron cements status as France’s presidential frontrunner with combative debate performance

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  • Macron found the most convincing in the debate with Le Pen by 59% – poll
  • The French president in office attacks his rival on Russia and the economy
  • Macron judged arrogant by viewers, Le Pen still scary – poll

PARIS, April 21 (Reuters) – (This story has been corrected to remove the inaccurate quote “Ms Le Pen is much more disciplined” from paragraph 9 of the April 21 story.)

French President Emmanuel Macron cleared a major hurdle on his way to re-election with a combative televised debate against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen that convinced most viewers, according to a poll, even though he was still judged arrogant.

Although Le Pen appeared more polite and composed than during a televised duel for the presidency in 2017, Macron went on the offensive over his ties to Russian leadership, his plans for the economy and his policies for the EU. European Union.

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With four days to go before the deciding vote, some 59% of viewers felt Macron had been the most convincing in the debate, according to a snapshot poll for BFM TV. It suggested the nearly three-hour standoff would not alter the tide of the election, with Macron leading in all previous polls.

Voter polls showed Macron’s lead over Le Pen widening to 56%-44% since the April 10 first round, and analysts said the debate was unlikely to swing intentions vote in favor of Le Pen.

“Yes, Emmanuel Macron won but his opponent avoided a repeat of the disaster of the last time”, declared on Twitter Gérard Araud, former ambassador of France. “This debate doesn’t disqualify her like the one in 2017, but it doesn’t help her close the gap either.”

On the offensive for most of the debate, Macron’s most piercing line of attack involved a loan to Le Pen’s party for its 2017 campaign taken out through a Russian bank.

“You talk about your banker when you talk about Russia, that’s the problem,” Macron told his opponent. “You depend on Russian power, you depend on Mr. Putin.” Read more

On the cost of living, seen as the most important issue for the French in this election, Macron also appeared to put Le Pen on the defensive, asking her why she had voted against his plans to cap electricity prices. if she wanted to help stock up on workers.

Yet during the debate, Macron failed to dispel an image of haughtiness that took root during his presidency. He interrupted his rival several times with lines like “you’re lying” and “stop mixing things up”.

“Mr. Macron, stop lecturing me,” retorted Le Pen. On the other hand, she adopted a much more courteous and softer tone than in 2017, even going so far as to applaud Macron’s diplomatic efforts to prevent war in Ukraine.

A snap poll by Elabe of each candidate’s personal characteristics showed that 50% of French people thought Macron came across as arrogant during the debate, while just 16% thought Le Pen did.

Le Pen also appeared slightly more in tune with ordinary people, with 37% of viewers saying she seemed closer to people’s concerns, while only 34% thought Macron was.

She also delivered a memorable punchline, which may resonate with left-leaning voters and young people who think Macron hasn’t done enough to tackle climate change, despite his early-term slogan “Let’s make our planet better”.

“I’m not a climato-skeptic, but you are a bit of a climato-hypocrite”, joked Le Pen.

But Macron’s mastery of political details made her look more “presidential”, the same Elabe poll showed, while she failed to convince a majority of viewers that she was fit to govern.

“Each of them has a huge weakness,” said Elabe pollster Bernard Sananes. “Emmanuel Macron is considered arrogant by more than one in two viewers. And Marine Le Pen remains scary for half of them.”

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Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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