Macron confident as far-right rival closes in ahead of vote

President Emmanuel Macron said Friday he has no fear of losing France’s presidential election, despite far-right rival Marine Le Pen narrowing the gap in opinion polls days before the first-round vote.

Still, suspense is the watchword in Sunday’s voting to choose the top two among a dozen contenders, with a predicted low turnout that could help decide the race.

“I have the spirit of conquest rather than the spirit of defeat,” Macron, a centrist, said in an interview with RTL radio on the final day of campaigning. But he cautiously added, “Nothing is ever a given.”

Le Pen, running in her third presidential race, has consistently placed second behind Macron in polls. She appeared to close the gap even further according to a BVA poll published showing her just 3% behind Macron’s 26%. Other polls have given a 4-6 point difference between the two.

If the polls mirror election results, Macron and Le Pen would repeat the 2017 scenario, squaring off in a second round Apr. 24. Macron won by a landslide five years ago, taking 66% of the vote to Le Pen’s 34%.

Le Pen has expended much energy to take the edge off her National Rally party in order to make it more appealing to voters. She has softened her image even more and made purchasing power the centerpiece of her campaign, but hasn’t given up what she’s best known for – stopping the “migratory submersion” and fighting radical Islamists.

“If Emmanuel Macron had enriched the country, excuse me but we wouldn’t be talking about purchasing power,” Le Pen said at her final rally Thursday evening in the southwest town of Perpignan whose far-right mayor, Louis Aliot, is her former companion.

Macron cited his presidential duties, notably the war in Ukraine, to justify his absence during much of the campaign, which has been criticized by other candidates.

Turnout could be the deciding factor in the the election and could harm Le Pen’s chances most because her working class support base is composed of voters who tend to stay at home on election day.

Pollsters say measuring the proportion of people who may not vote is a delicate task. The Odoxa polling firm suggested Friday that turnout could near a historic low level, at 27.4%. That would be five points more than in 2017.

The record was in 2002 when 28.4% of voters failed to go to the polls in the first round, when then-President Jacques Chirac was competing with Le Pen’s firebrand far-right father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, among others. Le Pen was defeated in the final round in a landslide.

“It could even be higher than this record,” Erwan Lestrohan, director of studies at Odoxa, said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. “This is the final stretch and there are still some undecided voters, but we are very close to a record abstention.”

In addition, three out of 10 people who say they are sure they will vote could change their minds or remain undecided about which candidate to choose, Lestrohan said.

“There is still lots of suspense in the final stretch,” he said.

In Perpignan, Le Pen sought to rally supporters including those mulling about casting their ballot for novice far-right candidate Eric Zemmour, a former TV pundit whose bid for the presidency is based entirely on the migration issue. He stands in fourth place in the polls, behind far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.

“I will give the country back to the French people,” Le Pen said. “It will be up to the French people to decide who is worthy of becoming French.”

She also appealed to supporters to cast their ballots.

“To those who stopped voting because of anger, disgust, disillusion, fatigue, I tell them: ‘I understand you’ but here, become citizen again,” Le Pen said.

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This story has been corrected to show that Le Pen’s first name is Marine, not Marie.

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Catherine Gaschka contributed.

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