From the flight during the LR primary to the crash of the first round, Valérie Pécresse’s disaster campaign

Valerie Pécresse will not be in the second round of the presidential election. By obtaining only 4.7% of the votes, Sunday April 10, according to our Ipsos-Sopra Steria estimate, the Republican candidate ends the race for the Elysee Palace out of breath. As five years ago, the second round will be played without the great party of the Republican right. Worse: if these figures are confirmed, the candidate LR is placed under the fateful bar of 5%, synonymous with non-reimbursement of campaign costs. “I assume, in responsibility, all my part in this defeat“said Valérie Pécresse on Sunday evening, announcing that she would vote for Emmanuel Macron in the second round.

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By achieving its worst score in the history of the Fifth Republic (see graph below)the Republican right finds itself in a weak position, wedged between the liberal line of Emmanuel Macron and the authoritarian posture of the far right. “If Pécresse is not in the second round, LR will be atomized”predicted a few weeks ago a close friend of the President of the Republic.

Everything had started so well. When the president of the Ile-de-France region won with more than 60% of the votes during the vote organized within the framework of a party congress, the December 4, his relatives then watch the polls with relish. “She took 11%, so it shows that anything is possible and that she is the only one who can beat Macron”said a spokesperson for the candidate at the time. “We knew there would be a mechanical effect, but we didn’t think we were at 20% [d’intentions de vote au premier tour]. This can allow us to appear as the ‘useful vote’.”

But quickly, the Pécresse camp understands that the campaign promises to be difficult. First there is the little music played by Eric Ciotti. The deputy of the Alpes-Maritimes, finalist of the internal primary, wishes to weigh with all his weight on the presidential program of the candidate. “I support her, but I want my ideas to be strongly represented”he warns after a public meeting in Nice.

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Valérie Pécresse multiplies strong statements. For example, it announces at the beginning of January that it wants “bring the Kärcher out of the cellar” for “clean up the neighborhoods”in reference to a famous statement by Nicolas Sarkozy.

Valérie Pécresse and Eric Ciotti, December 4, 2021 in Paris, after the announcement of the results of the LR congress.  (ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP)

But the divisions persist. While the candidate declares herself, in December, in favor of the vaccination pass, some LR parliamentarians do not make her life easy by displaying their divisions during the examination of the bill transforming the health pass into a vaccination pass. Throughout the campaign, certain currents of the party will be accused in turn of sabotaging the work.

After the failed meeting of Valérie Pécresse at the Zénith de Paris, the dissensions are even stronger. “Xavier Bertrand sucks since he lost, everyone knows it. He has a lot of nice facades like that in public, but behind the back, he actually knocks everything out”then entrusts to franceinfo a member of the close guard of the candidate. “The Sarkozyists want to lose Pécresse. During the meeting, I saw some faithful texting each other to say that she sucked”adds a tenor from LR.

The Zénith, mid-February, actually marks the beginning of trouble and the downfall for Valérie Pécresse. On the form, the candidate appears rigid and uncomfortable. “I wanted to make a speech like a man (…), a speech with very powerful words, words of a man”she will explain later to franceinfo.

But also on the merits, she gets into trouble by using the term “great replacement”, worn forcefully for several weeks by Eric Zemmour. “I think it’s always a mistake to use the words of your opponents, even if it’s to condemn those words”reproaches him Jean-Christophe Lagarde, boss of the UDI. “The problem is that she tries to hold the two tendencies of the right-wing electorate, which are perhaps incompatible”then notes Brice Teinturier, Deputy CEO of Ipsos. “It’s an extremely complicated goal, which leads to a permanent big gap. Hence situations that create ambiguity.”

Valérie Pécresse, on February 13, 2022, during her meeting at the Zénith de Paris.   (CARINE SCHMITT / HANS LUCAS / AFP)

The curve of the former minister’s voting intentions began to dip in early February, but the fall accelerated from the Paris meeting. Especially since the candidate will have a string of troubles, starting with the defections of some of her troops.

Eric Zemmour only managed to rally a handful of LRs, like the party’s former number 2, Guillaume Peltier, but Emmanuel Macron’s camp will quickly claim many war prizes: former minister Eric Woerth, the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, the former Secretary of State Nora Berra, the president of the departmental council of Bouches-du-Rhône, Martine Vassal, the president of the Paca region, Renaud Muselier, or even the former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

The effect of this series of defections is amplified by the heavy silence of Nicolas Sarkozy. The former president refuses to give any support to the candidate from his political family. “He is convinced that she will not be the next President of the Republic, so he is careful not to comment”explains in March a parliamentarian LR. “We have worked hard to ensure that Nicolas Sarkozy says nothing and the fact that he says nothing is already a victory for us”even comments a ministerial adviser.

Beyond the lack of support within his camp, Valérie Pécresse has not been spared by the controversies. A survey of Release reveals on February 23 that the LR party saw entering its ranks “several hundred members” who have no memory of their membership, others non-existent or even dead. The daily even mentions the presence of a dog in the listings, named Douglas, registered in the Paca region by its pro-Ciotti owner. Valérie Pécresse’s victory at the congress, already questioned by a Mediapart survey on the participation of foreign voters, is once again weakened. And the dog Douglas quickly becomes an object of hijacking on social networks.

Sometimes, the former minister of Nicolas Sarkozy puts herself in difficulty with clumsy communication. In a press release published on February 28, the one who tries to demonstrate her stature as a stateswoman announces that she will bring together a strategic defense council around former ministers and right-wing parliamentarians, to “follow the evolution of the conflict [en Ukraine] and analyze geopolitical issues alongside him”. A snapshot shows the candidate seated around a rectangular table decorated with an unironed tablecloth, accompanied by former ministers Michel Barnier, Michèle Alliot-Marie, Gérard Longuet and Hervé Morin. The photo will again arouse many mockeries.

To top it off, the Covid invites itself, at the end of March, into its campaign. The virus forces Valérie Pécresse to isolate herself for several days and to ensure her appointments by videoconference. In the last weeks of the campaign, she tried to regain control, by being offensive during a televised debate against Eric Zemmour or by showing more naturalness during her last big meeting. But she never managed to reverse the trend.

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