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Victory for François Hollande, Candidate for French President

October 19, 2011

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            Five years ago, he was the man lost in the shadows; François Hollande has now become his own man. His ex-partner and mother of his four children, Ségolène Royale, supported Hollande in the second round of the Socialist Party Primaries on Sunday, October 16th. Originally one of the big names – along with former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, runner-up Martine Aubry, and Hollande – Royale has sunk into the background Hollande once occupied. In 2007, Royale was the primary challenger to current French president Nicolas Sarkozy, losing the second and final round election with 47% of the vote.

Now it is Hollande who carrying the banner of the Socialist Party for France. While Hollande is sometimes seen as bland and boring, Sarkozy’s poll numbers have not been helped by recent success in Libya. Before Hollande’s run-off victory against Aubry, either candidate was projected to defeat Sarkozy by a 59-41% margin. While Sarkozy may be down and out according to current approval ratings, he is known to run a good campaign and thinks French citizens can count on his leadership in a crisis. Jacques Chirac came back from a seemingly insurmountable poll deficit to win the presidency in 1995; maybe Sarkozy can pull off a similar feat.

Hollande’s primary victory may carry more weight than prior Socialist nominations, which admitted only card-carrying party members into polls. This year, the Socialist Party opened its booths to the public, providing a one-euro fee and a declaration of adherence to left-wing values. Then Royale was seen as outside the party hierarchy and a divisive personality. Now Hollande campaigns as the consensus candidate, and after securing the endorsement of all four other candidates after the October 9th first round, he made a public display of unity after Aubry’s concession of defeat on Sunday night. “Hugs all around” does not seem quite French, where the traditional cheek-to-cheek kiss is the preferred, and more dignified, gesture. The symbolism is even greater given years of in-party quarreling and Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s scandal and subsequent withdrawal from the race.

Hollande shed 33 pounds while his campaign gathered steam – something that hearkens back to the failed presidential bids of Mike Huckabee. A better analogy between French and American politics is drawn between contemporaries. Both Hollande and Mitt Romney have slowly gathered important support from among party faithful and portrayed themselves as “Monsieur Normal” or the middle-of-the-road candidate – politically moderate and personally sensible – battling a loud yet economically-unsuccessful predecessor (Sarkozy and Obama). They may represent opposite sides of the political spectrum, but Romney and Hollande are placing their bets on a public they see as fed up with the fast-talking yet underachieving status quo.

Hollande before and after his weight loss

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