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Xavier Bertrand, politician of the center-right Les Républicains party, won the regional elections on Sunday with around 52% support in the northern Hauts-de-France region. He beat the far-right candidate, who won around 26% of the vote, according to exit polls published by the French Interior Ministry.
“The National Front was arrested, and we strongly repelled it,” Bertrand said in a victory speech on Sunday in relation to the far-right party, renamed the National Rally in 2018.
In Sunday’s regional election, marked by a very high abstention rate, Bertrand’s party enjoyed strong support across the country. On the other hand, the National Rally of Marine Le Pen and La République en Marche, of outgoing President Macron, have failed to win in any of the regions.
Republicans have yet to choose who will lead his presidential campaign, but after Sunday’s vote, Bertrand is well positioned to win the nomination.
“He is currently the best placed among the potential right-wing candidates in the first round of the presidential election,” Eric Mengus, associate professor at HEC Paris Business School, said by e-mail.
“Yet the nomination (within the Republicans) is still open and will not take place until the fall,” Mengus added.
Bertrand has seen his popularity rise in recent weeks, currently polling 16% of the top candidates in next year’s presidential election. Le Pen is first in the same poll with 26% of the supporters, followed by Macron with 25%, according to a poll of the polls.
Bertrand was Minister of Labor and then Minister of Health under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, between 2007 and 2012. He began his career in insurance and uses his provincial roots to show that he is not an elite of the society.
Speaking on Sunday, Bertrand said his priority was to help the middle class.
Bertrand has, if he is selected by his party, until April 2022 to obtain enough support to fight in the second round of the presidential election.
“Le Pen’s underperformance is bittersweet for Macron. It takes away his momentum ahead of next year’s presidential election and will rekindle criticism against him within his own movement. But Macron also knows he would beat Le Pen more easily next April than a candidate for a traditional or center-right revival. [party], like Xavier Bertrand, ”said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of the consultancy firm Eurasia Group, in a note on Sunday evening.
Current polls predict Macron would win a second round against Le Pen, as happened in 2017, when he was first elected.
Some political experts believe that next year’s second round will be another fight between Le Pen and Macron.
“Still for the presidential elections, these two candidates, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron are I think, indeed, the favorites”, declared Emmanuelle Auriol, professor of economics at the University of Toulouse, to “Squawk Box Europe” from CNBC.