PARIS — Lionel Jospin was not supposed to be the leader to take French Socialists into the 21st century.
Until Mr. Jospin, the prototype Socialist leader had been Franois Mitterrand, a brilliant orator and wily, ruthless politician. In short, a "fox" - a term of respect in French politics - with a sense of personal style so regal that political satirists referred to him simply as "god."
Mitterrand led his party to two presidential victories, but left behind a legacy of corruption and fratricidal party quarrels. The terms most often used to describe Jospin, a former economics professor are sincere, hard-working, methodical, honest, and a Protestant. The leading left daily Liberation attributed a good part of the Socialist victory to the personality of the new party leader.
He lectured in economics for 11 years, until June 1981, when he was elected to the National Assembly and took over leadership of the Socialist Party when Mitterrand was elected president. In the mid-80s, he gradually distanced himself from party intrigues and corrupt practices.
When he offered himself as the party's candidate for the presidential vote in 1995, there were few credible contenders.
His No. 1 showing in Round 1 of the presidential vote stunned political observers, including many in his own party. He lost the runoff with 47.3 percent of the vote.
Unlike most other French politicians, he has focused much of his activity before and during this year's campaign outside of Paris, much to the ridicule of political commentators. But many of the same voices now credit this sensitivity to the concerns of voters across France as a key to the party's success on Sunday.