PARIS (AP) – At the height of France’s presidential campaign, centrist President Emmanuel Macron and far-right contender Marine Le Pen will meet Wednesday night in a one-on-one televised debate that could be decisive ahead of Sunday’s second vote.
Both candidates have carefully prepared for the closely watched debate that is expected to last more than two hours.
Macron, 44, took the lead from the first round on April 10, leading in opinion polls by a margin ranging between 3 and 13 percentage points. But Le Pen, 53, has narrowed the gap significantly compared to the last presidential election five years ago, when she lost 34% of the vote to Macron’s 66%.
In 2017, a similar debate struck a decisive blow to her campaign.
Le Pen had looked hesitantly, searching for answers from notes piled up before her, and at one point seemed to lose her cool. She also made basic mistakes on several economic topics – which Macron immediately tapped into.
That turned out to be disastrous for her image. Even in her own camp, she was criticized for being insufficiently prepared.
Meanwhile, despite his little political experience, the then 39-year-old Macron seemed comfortable talking about all sorts of issues and going into deep detail in what appeared to be a sign of seriousness.
Le Pen recently called the 2017 presidential debate the “biggest failure” of her political career.
This time, she has promised to be better prepared and to work “at home” with her closest advisers.
Both candidates must increase support before Sunday’s vote. Many French people, especially the left, still say they do not know whether they will go to the polls.
Le Pen is expected to appeal to those who have anti-Macron sentiments, criticize his track record and present her nationalist, anti-immigration stance as an alternative. She also wants to show that she has the status of a potential president and, in her own words, promote realistic proposals.
Meanwhile, Macron will advocate his pro-European views as the way to make France stronger in the world. He will try to convince left-wing voters that his pro-business stance should not stop them from voting for him.
In recent days, he acknowledged that some would support him only to oppose the far-right candidate.
“I want to convince women and men with different political positions,” Macron said.
Follow AP’s coverage of the French election at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022