Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Great Debate

Fortunately, I am home for a one-day respite from my travels and will be able to watch tonight's great debate from the comfort of my easy chair. Clearly, this is Sarkozy's last chance, and I expect him to pull out all the stops. What line will he take? Unlike 2007, when he was able to lay back and let Ségolène Royal try to bring the fight to him, this year he will be on the attack, trying to shake Hollande from the vagueness of his front-running campaign. He will no doubt try to demonstrate that the Socialist's budgetary arithmetic doesn't add up, although such arguments tend to fall flat in televised debate. He may attempt some low blows, as he did in his confrontation with Fabius, quoting some rather disobliging characterizations of the "old Hollande" by fellow Socialists. He may go after corruption in the PS, about which Hollande did little. He may point to Hollande's lack of ministerial experience and to the lack of confidence in him implied by his never having been chosen to hold a portfolio when the PS was in power.

But will any of this impress voters who, while they may hold little affection for Hollande, have come to know Sarkozy well and dislike him intensely? Any undecided voters who bother to watch will no doubt be focusing on Hollande's performance more than Sarkozy's. And Hollande will not need to do much: avoid major gaffes, appear knowledgeable, stay calm, and perhaps reveal flashes of the wit that served him well as First Secretary, though he may prefer to stick with gravitas and avoid the rapier thrusts that can sometimes lead into temptation and therefore a possible blunder. Will he attack Sarkozy? Will he go after allegations of corruption in high places (from the Bettencourt Affair to Karachigate and now Libyagate, where the evidence is too murky to be really telling)? We shall see.

In the end, it would be remarkable if the debate produced more than a 2-point swing for either candidate, and 2 points is far less than Sarkozy needs--if the polls are accurate. I italicize this caveat, because I think the Le Pen vote is a large imponderable. Many of her 17.9% may be making up their minds at the last minute and/or not telling pollsters what they think. So we won't really know until the night of May 6.

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