Macron only started his election campaign this week after diplomatic pressure from Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine limited the President’s ability to campaign at home. Macron told French television: “I love rallies but let’s be clear-headed – I can’t do much. No one will understand if I am not there to protect France.” He has been at the center of European diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict, having held a number of telephone conversations with Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky since the Russian leader invaded Ukraine last month.
Macron had hoped to become the first French president to win re-election in two decades, but recently dropped two to three points in opinion polls amid anger over the cost of living crisis.
However, he is still the favourite, with a Politico poll projecting him to win 28 percent of the first-round vote, ahead of far-right rival Marine Le Pen with 19 percent of the vote.
Despite receiving criticism from both the left and the right since taking office in 2017, Macron has always had the chance to reclaim the keys to the Elysee Palace, while his central role in the Ukraine war has pushed it further.
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He could even make history by becoming the first French President during the Fifth Republic era to win 50 percent of the first-round vote, according to Dr David Lees, Associate Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick. .
“What is interesting of course is to see if any candidate gets enough votes to challenge him in the second round of the election.
“If Macron claims 50 percent or more of the vote in the first round then he is automatically elected.
Although Le Pen strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ahead of the 2017 election he went to Moscow to meet Putin.
Prior to this, in October 2014, the far-right party, later called the National Front, borrowed €9 million (£7.5 million) from a Russian bank to finance its election campaign.
Dr Lees said: “It looks like it’s Marine Le Pen [in the second round]I still think it’s possible, but he has been discredited by his relationship with Putin.
“There were question marks that arose in 2017 as to whether his election campaign had been supported in some way by Russia.
“There must have been an element of Russian interference on Twitter and other social media sites trying to garner support for Le Pen at the time.”
Le Pen has found some excuses this week by campaigning hard at the cost of France’s life crisis, but his image was tarnished this month by a dispute with his nephew Marion Marechal Le Pen.
Ms Marechal Le Pen, long considered the future of the National Rally, sparked a family rift by defecting to Ms Le Pen’s election rival Eric Zemmour.
Speaking in anticipation of the defection in January, Le Pen said he was personally hurt by the “brutal” and “shocking” decision of his nephew.
Dr Lees added: “Before Russia invaded Ukraine, there was a very clear feeling that Macron was head and shoulders above the other candidates, in part because others had real difficulty getting the signatures needed to become candidates.
“For Le Pen he also found it very difficult.
“He had a fairly prominent feud with his nephew Marion Marechal Le Pen, who at one point was seen as the party’s future candidate.
“So the campaign was not good before and not good now.”