Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, the 54-year-old enfant terrible of French politics, is fighting for his political life.
In the general elections in March, he won re-election by a bare 22 votes. The French Constitutional Council whittled his majority down to four votes and then invalidated his election, forcing him to run again in a special election.
Although French politicians tend to have nine lives, a defeat here for Servan-Schreiber would well spell the end of a colorfuly career full of wildly fluctuating ups and downs.
A replay of the election is to be held in two stages, today with 11 canditates stretching across the spectrum from fascist to monarchist to Maoist, and runoffs next Sunday, with the field undoubttedly reduced to the top two vote-getters.
All indications are that Servan-Schreiber will be facing the front-runner on the left Socialist candidate Yvon Tondon, a 56-year-old steel worker who is a militant trade unionist and an ardent practicing Catholic-ideal attributes in this eastern province whose devout population depends for its living on the steels mills of the Moselle Valley.@TServan-Schreiber wages a high personalized campaign that would almost inevitably turn his high-profile personality into a campaign issue even if the normally reserved Lorrainers were not already inclined to raise the question. The self-effacing Tondon talks about unemployment, the threat of factory closedowns and the Socialist Party platform.
When he is living in Nancy, Servan-Schreiber, the heir to a newspper fortune, resides in a palatial merchant prince's town house on the Rue du Haut, Bourgeois, or Street of the High Bourgeoise in the elegant medieval city.
The amount of money he is spending for huge posters of himself with Presdent Valery Giscard d'Estaing, bumper stickers reading "Go Jean-Jacques," campaign trucks and paid workers ranging from professional economists to telephone canvassers is in itself an issue. In France, such "American-style" campaign blitzes ar estill seen as a political innovation.
Unlike the mark elections,when the central question was whether France would be ruled by a Socialist-Communist combination, Servan-Schreiber's Gaullist enemies are not inhibited in their desire to rid themselves of a man they regard as the leading troublemaker inside Giscard's ruling coalition.
Before March, Gaullist leader Jacques Girac called Servan-Schreiber "the jester of French politics," but later said Gaullists should vote for him in the runoffs to avoid a leftist vitory. The time, Gaullists can vote with a clear conscience for a Socialist in the runoffs because the whole country's future is not at stake.
Many conservative Gaullists with family fortunes tend to regard "JJSS" whose own family fortune was founded to France's leading financial newspaper, as something of a "class traitor," much as Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were regarded by conservative American moneymen.
Servan-Schreiber has identified himself with JFK, right down to en encouraging the use of the initials JJSSand vacationing with the kennedys on Cape Cod. The late Francois Mauriac, Nobel Prize novelist and ardent Gaullist, dubbed Servan-Schreiber "the Kennedylet."
Servan-Schreiber made his reputation as the founder in 1953 of L'Express, the leading non-communist press voice against the Algerian war. After the war, he conterted L'Express from a highly partisan journal printed on cheap newsprint into the first successful French version of an American can-style newsweekly.
In 1970, however, he began a string of political moves that reduced his image. After having won his first election in Lorraine early in the year by on overwhelming 60 percent, he ran unsuccessfully in byelection against the then-prime minister, Jacques Chaban-Delmas in another electoral distric at the opposite end of the country. While there was nothing illegal about running for two seats, its was a clear violation of the unwritten code of political behavior.
Servan-Schreiber expects and gets hard work from his campaign worker, who include the whod Fennedy-style Servan-Schreiber clan: his 78-year-old mother, his sisters, his wife Sabine and his three teen-aged sons.
At his daily staff meeting, he recently distributed photocopies of an underlined passage from his previous night's bedtime reading. Andre Malraux's, "Man's Hope." "Strange is the taste that men have to discuss things besides the conditions of their actions at the very moment that life hangs on those actions," it said.
One of the recipients of the quote said he interpreted it to mean, "No one should be thinking or talking about anything but winning this election."
At another staff meeting, one of the Servan-Schreiber sons arrived late, the aide recalled. Asked by his father to explain, the son said he had overslept because he had been up until 2 a.m. pasting posters on walls. "Bravo, David," replied Servan-Schreiber pere. "When one is not working, there is only one thing to do; that's sleep."
Following his own advice, Servan-Schreiber insists on a 30-minute siesta every afternoon.
"It's sacred," said the aide. "We don't have the right to disturb him for anything, no matter how important."
Behind his desk in his Nancy residence, Servan-Schreiber is the picture of the leader of an embattled army - calling Paris to demand things of the government, talking into squawk box a campign aides in neighboring rooms.
One recent morning, he was mobilizing his forces against an attack on his campaign headquarters by a group of rightist thugs.
I'll put my own sons in the front line so they won't dare hurt anyone." he said into the telephone.
The next night, he engaged in a gentlemanly debate on the economic problems of Lorraine with the Communist candidate, Roland Favaro, a member of the party's of the party's Central Committee. Servan-Schreiber even apologized publicly to the audience in the Communist-voting suburb for having been too harsh in his public debates with Communist leaders in March.
JJSS gives the clear impression that he considers himself the only French leader who understands France's political needs. He dismisses virtually munists, too conservative or simply not up to snuff.
Interviewed in the rear seat of his car driving at high speed from village to village, Servan-Schreiber criticized even Giscard as too conservative, too much of a classical economist and too inclined to preach patience.
It is generally agreed, however, that if Servan-Schreiber squeaks through it will almost certainly be thanks to his poster showing him and the president in conversation and the slogan, "The more you vote for us, the more we can fight for you." It is deliberately unclear whether the "we" is JJSS, Giscard or both.
Servan-Schreiber's Gaullist-en everyone else as too soft on the Comdorsed opponent, Claude Hurie is a member of the regular Giscardist party. Using the campaign poster slogan "a real Lorrainer," Huriet comes across as the candidate of those who have a visceral dislike of Servan-Schreiber.
If Servan-Schreiber loses his seat, it is hard to see what he can use as a power base for a speedy comeback. Saying he wanted to devote himself exclusively to politics. Servan-Schreiber sold L'Express, the basis of his national influence, to Anglo-French industrialist James Goldsmith. Servan-Schreiber also gave up his presidency of the Radical Party and his presidency of the Lorraine Regional Council.