Stakes high for Macron as Le Pen set to unleash incumbent effect 'trump card' in showdown

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The two presidential hopefuls will face each other at the ballot box on Sunday, April 24, to conclude what has become a closer-than-expected race. Before then, they will come head-to-head in a highly anticipated televised debate, tonight, on April 20.

French elections, unlike those of many other European elections, require citizens to vote in the ballot box on election day and does not issue postal votes.

This means every French voter will mark their cross after tonight’s debate and that none will have already cast their vote before pundits crown a debate winner (that is, before minds might have been changed).

Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen are, as such, under a great deal of pressure to perform well, especially given the narrow gap between their recent polling scores.

The National Rally leader is well aware she did not fare well when she last met Mr Macron for a televised debate ahead of the 2017 election.

She, quoted in POLITICO, earlier this year conceded: “The debate was a failure for which I paid a very heavy price.”

It resulted in Ms Le Pen falling by up to seven percentage points in the polls.

But she is likely to feel more prepared this time round and, as POLITICO puts it, has a “trump card she didn’t hold in 2017”.

This is that Mr Macron has been President for five years and, as a result, is suffering from the ‘incumbent effect’.

READ MORE: Macron blasts Le Pen as ‘far-right’

Mr Macron, on the other hand, is expected to attempt to damage Ms Le Pen’s chances by attacking what he might term her extreme politics.

He this week told France Channel 5 the National Rally leader is “far right” and, despite making attempts to appear more moderate since the last presidential election, has actually become “maybe even more radical on some subjects, such as identity, asylum [and] Europe”.

In what appears to be an attempt to appease those who these accusations might wash with, Ms Le Pen has signalled she would be happy to work with left-wing figures in her government if she wins the election.

Some pundits suggest she has also done more to win over working-class voters, which allies of the President have warned against him spending too much time canvassing the middle-class voters who are already more on-side.

A strong performance in the debate is critical for both contenders, with even those close to Mr Macron warning the election is “not done and dusted”.

As French Prime Minister Jean Castex highlighted in an interview for France inter radio: “One [poll] puts Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen on the same level. But there are key differences.”

While the race is close, its result may be somewhat easier to predict after tonight’s televised clash.



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