The two frontrunners for the French presidency clashed spectacularly in the campaign's first televised debate between leading candidates Monday night. All five candidates landed punches during vigorous discussion on the big issues for France: jobs, terrorism, immigration, and Europe. But the face-off between independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen provided moments of high drama. With polls suggesting Le Pen and Macron could be direct rivals (ahead of conservative candidate Francois Fillon, once the frontrunner; Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon; and far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon) in the decisive May 7 runoff of the two-round election, both sought to score points. What's regarded as the most heated exchange, per the AP:
- Macron reacted vigorously when Le Pen accused him of being in favor of Muslim swimwear—essentially suggesting that her rival isn't really committed to France's secular values and policies. "I don't need a ventriloquist," he retorted. "When I have something to say, I say it clearly." He, in turn, accused Le Pen of using Islam to divide the French. Le Pen wants all visible religious symbols worn by people, including Muslim headscarves and Jewish kippahs, banned from public. "The trap you are falling into, Madame Le Pen, with your provocations is to divide society," Macron said.
The Financial Times
reports that two online surveys taken after the debate put Macron in the lead with about 30% support; Le Pen took second or third. In its list of five takeaways, Politico
reports that it was waiting for a "wow" from the 39-year-old Macron, and while he "passed the presidential test," that pop never came. "His insistence on the pragmatic platform overshadowed the unique selling point of his campaign—that he is meant to represent youthful optimism."