“The candidates will turn in the federations like a bee in front of a pot of honey!” This metaphor chosen by a tenor of the Republicans says a lot about the importance of the battle being played out on the right, before the congress on December 4, which will designate the candidate supported by the party for the next presidential election. A decisive vote, in which the only LR members up to date will participate (they were exactly 87,764 at the last score, up sharply in recent weeks). They will have the choice between six candidates: Valérie Pécresse, Michel Barnier, Eric Ciotti, Philippe Juvin, Denis Payre and Xavier Bertrand, who ended up accepting this Monday to participate.
To get an idea of the current balance of power, we contacted the 101 LR federation presidents, one for each French department: as of Thursday, October 14, 95 of them agreed to answer, anonymously or not, to the question. “Do you have a preference among the six candidates running for the party convention?” Their role and their influence on the vote at the congress are important, even if it should be specified that the members will be free of their choice, whatever that of their president of “federation”.
First lesson: former European Commissioner Michel Barnier is clearly at the top of this census, with 28 supporters. “He has remained loyal to the party, he has the experience and the presidential stature, justifies an LR manager from the south of France. His head, his heart and his guts are aligned, while the others are doing too much Commedia dell’Arte! “ For a Breton president, Michel Barnier is even “a rock in the storm.”
Within Michel Barnier’s campaign team, these results are greeted with “full of hope for the future”. “This corresponds to what I feel today among the militants and the cadres of the party”, rejoices his political advisor Daniel Fasquelle, president of the LR federation of Pas-de-Calais. “It is now necessary that Michel consolidates this advance and reinforces his notoriety with the French. It will be done naturally.” The former minister of Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy has planned an average of three trips per week in the federations, by December 4, to meet the activists. He also appointed a referent in almost every department to collect the necessary sponsorships.
Yet, in the party, many doubt that Barnier’s choice is the right one for 2022. “His speech is brilliant in substance but ultra soporific in form”, tackle a manager of “federated” who saw Michel Barnier at work recently. “Having a face of a president is not enough! another alarmed. I still did not understand what would be his political path to win the presidential election. “ According to a Harris Interactive poll for Challenges, covering the week of October 13, Michel Barnier would collect only 7% of voting intentions in the first round if he was the candidate for the right, 4 points behind Valérie Pécresse and 7 behind Xavier Bertrand.
Another important lesson from our survey: Xavier Bertrand (18 supporters among the presidents of the LR federation) and Valérie Pécresse (13), although ahead of Michel Barnier in the polls, rank at this stage behind the former “Mr. Brexit “among local party officials.
Regarding Xavier Bertrand, opinions are mixed. “He is the only one who can take us to victory”, considers a president of an important federation, “the militants want to win, the Bertrand vote is the useful vote”, says another. He “is the one that most resembles the French”, underlines again the head of a Breton federation. Others find it hard to forgive him for leaving the party in 2017. “His arrogant attitude and his lack of respect for party authorities and activists leave traces”, judge this president of a Mediterranean federation.
However, since the former secretary general of the UMP accepted, after much hesitation, to participate in the congress of his former party, the tide could turn. “Without this decision, Michel Barnier was sure to win, considers an executive of the Republicans and president of the federation. Now that he has entered the game, a lot of tenors will support him. It’s going to be very tight. “
The entourage of Xavier Bertrand minimizes, unsurprisingly, the results of our census and is confident. “We are convinced that we will win because we are convinced that the militants have common sense”, summarizes a parliamentarian close to the candidate. To catch up, the former Minister of Health sent, Tuesday, the same SMS to many federation presidents to defend his approach and organize his campaign: he intends to embark on a vast tour of France of federations this week. LR. Objective: to visit about fifty between now and the congress, starting with Ain, from Thursday evening.
Third in our survey, Valérie Pécresse is also lagging behind despite a very active campaign. Among the 13 LR federation presidents who support it, all salute its “skill” and his “ability to embody the presidential function”. “And then a woman president of the Republic, that would have the mouth, not?” this overseas manager projects himself. But for the president of an important federation, the Pécresse candidacy would go almost unnoticed. “At home, they vomit Bertrand, but they don’t even talk to me about Pécresse!” he recounts. Another sums it up: “Lots of people support Valérie out of loyalty, but they don’t believe it.”
There remains a cause for hope for all the candidates: a third (33 out of 101) of these party executives are still undecided at seven weeks before the congress. “The game is very open, anything is possible”, considers a manager still hesitant. “We are waiting to see who will come to our department, it will be important”, slip another. Especially since among the federations still undecided, some have the most LR members up to date. “We will go get them one by one”, launches with relish a relative of a candidate. They have 51 days left to convince them.