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Opposing French Presidential Campaign Strategies Clash At Whirpool Factory


French voters face a stark choice in next month's runoff election for president. Will it be the centrist Emmanuel Macron or far-right Marine Le Pen? Macron is now leading in the polls with previous rivals endorsing him. Yet as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris, Le Pen cannot be ruled out.


MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: When she won a place in the final round Sunday night, Marine Le Pen went on the attack. Emmanuel Macron went out to dinner. The French watched Le Pen surrounded by her working-class supporters. They watched Macron clinking champagne glasses with elites at a chic Paris brasserie.


LE PEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen calls Macron a candidate of the rich. She says he'll increase unemployment and mass immigration with his open borders and cut-throat capitalism. Political science professor Pascal Perrineau says the two candidates' shockingly different visions are now going head to head.

PASCAL PERRINEAU: (Through interpreter) One vision is of social, economic and political openness. Macron is pro-EU and vaunts the charms of a multicultural society. It's the exact opposite for Marine Le Pen. She wants France out of globalization. She's against the EU, and she finds no charm in a cosmopolitan and multicultural France.

BEARDSLEY: Some polls have given Macron a 20-point lead, and many voters from the mainstream right and left are expected to back him. But nothing has been predictable in this unprecedented election. The Socialist and Conservative parties have been eliminated and fragmented, and analysts say the old left-right divides don't mean anything. One example - supporters of the defeated far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon are vehemently against globalization, and a significant percentage of them may vote for Le Pen.


FRANCOIS FILLON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Conceding after the first round, mainstream conservative Francois Fillon said the far right was dangerous and urged his supporters to back Macron. But Fillon voter Stanislas Payet says he dislikes both candidates and will probably abstain.

STANISLAS PAYET: At least she has a specific idea of what to do. On the other hand, Macron has nothing. He has no idea what to do, and Macron is just here like, I'm going to be president, but I don't really know why, you know?

BEARDSLEY: Many Fillon voters say their candidate was defeated by a fake job scandal exaggerated by the media. They say Macron is an empty shell who benefited from Fillon's demise. Pollster Edouard Le Cerf says everybody knows the second round is not about voting for who you want.

EDOUARD LE CERF: At the first round, you choose your candidate. And at the second round, you eliminate another candidate. So probably Marine Le Pen is the one the most voters will want to eliminate. Even if not all of them want to elect Macron, they will try and eliminate Marine Le Pen.

BEARDSLEY: But many voters may not vote at all, and a high abstention rate may help Le Pen.


BEARDSLEY: Today, the battle for France unfolded at the Whirlpool factory in the northern town of Amiens. The plant is moving to Poland next year and laying off hundreds of French workers. Macron came to meet with union leaders at the Chamber of Commerce. When Le Pen got a whiff of it, she showed up at the factory gates. TV news showed her taking selfies with the adoring crowd.


LE PEN: (Through interpreter) I am here where I belong, in the middle of the workers who are resisting this savage globalization and shameful economic model. I'm not eating little cakes with a few representatives in some room in town.

BEARDSLEY: Then Macron showed up at the factory.


BEARDSLEY: He was whistled and booed. The tense scene played out live on social media and French television.


EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).


BEARDSLEY: Macron told the workers he felt their pain, but he would not make false promises. He said stopping the plant from closing would scare other companies from investing in France. This evening, media pundits are still debating who won the battle of Whirlpool.


MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.