In a tight French election, Sarkozy is suddenly everywhere

Ahead of April polls, It's all Sarkozy all the time as the embattled president uses his Elysée Palace pulpit to salute national triumph at the Oscars and exhibit authority on weightier matters of office.

Eric Feferberg/Reuters
Nicolas Sarkozy, France's President and UMP party candidate for the 2012 French presidential election, arrives on stage at a campaign rally in Montpellier on February 28.

There seem now to be no electronic or digital news pulses emerging out of France that do not involve Nicolas Sarkozy. It’s election season and the French leader is gaining in the polls in a tight race, so it is suddenly all Mr. Sarkozy, all the time.

Today, Sarkozy said it is unclear if injured French journalist Edith Bouvier has escaped from the city of Homs in Syria, having earlier given better news. Yesterday, Mr. Sarkozy said he would resubmit a controversial bill making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide, brushing aside a court ruling that an earlier version was unconstitutional. On Feb. 27, Sarkozy tied himself to France’s Hollywood Oscar sweep, praising “The Artist” and French arts in general. He made further headlines this week – and it's only Wednesday -- when his campaign quietly dropped plans to have Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel stump for him. The unusual "Merkozy" team is off for elections. 

This quick list doesn't include Elysée Palace news on troops in Afghanistan, peace in Syria, Iranian nuclear ambitions, the euro crisis, and all manner of high-level presidential business that Sarkozy’s main rival, Socialist frontrunner François Hollande, cannot match.

This week, it seems clear that French elections are shaping into a two-man race. That brought its own news: Polls show Sarkozy picking up four points on Mr. Hollande. The two are now virtually tied in first round French election polls, although Hollande holds an 11-point lead in the all-important second round, scheduled for May 5.

Sarkozy’s message is that he is the man with leaderly gravitas who will protect the French in a time of uncertainty and crisis. Hollande has sought to capitalize on Sarkozy’s unpopularity and portray himself as a “normal” guy, steady and reliable.

In an Op-Ed for The New York Times, leading Paris intellectual Dominique Moisi argues that at this point in the campaign, “the emotional rejection by a majority of the French of a man they apparently do not want to see on their television screens for another five years still appears to prevail over the clear lack of enthusiasm for his main opponent, the Socialist François Hollande.”

Mr. Moisi gives Sarkozy credit for any number of achievements under difficult circumstances, including leadership and swift reactions to international crisis ranging from Libya to Ivory Coast – but says the race is still Hollande’s to lose.

Clearly that is not what Sarkozy’s campaign public relations team, which meets at 7:30 every morning to review news and talking points, wants. French sources say they are sending the president to every major news event where he can speak or comment.

There’s even suggestion that Sarkozy forces blocked popular parodies of their candidate on Twitter after Sarkozy opened his own Twitter account on Feb. 15. Twitter accounts used to impersonate the president were allegedly closed, according to French media and Reporters Without Borders, forcing Twitter to issue a statement on its policies that "Parody is tolerated and encouraged on Twitter, so long as it respects not merely some, but all, of the conditions stated publicly in our parody policy. An impersonating account is suspended when it a) violates our parody policy and b) is reported by the person being impersonated.”

With the euro crisis ongoing, the French elections are increasingly seen as important. Sarkozy has hewed to a policy of austerity forged in alliance with Chancellor Merkel that involves a stricter European Union fiscal policy.

Hollande has said he will not automatically accept the policy if elected, and this week announced that he will impose a 75 percent tax rate on individuals making more than €1.3 million a year – something Sarkozy made quick headlines dismissing. 

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