Le Pen, who is trailing Macron by a 20-point margin in most polls, is hoping that fears of terrorism will convince conservative voters to back her in the May 7 runoff. And Nice, with its memories of last year’s attack and history of voting for center-right candidates, seems like fertile ground.
Le Pen received 25 percent of the vote in Nice in Sunday’s first-round vote, beating Macron by five points and coming in just behind the leader, François Fillon of the center-right Republicans.
“In every recent election, voters have favored the Republicans,” said Marie-Ange Grégory, a political scientist at Nice University. “By having her rally in Nice, she’ll be hoping to convince those on the hard-right who voted for Fillon to turn to the National Front in the second round.” A recent survey found that 24 percent of Fillon voters would choose Le Pen in round two, making them her largest potential source of new votes.
In a city where the memory of terrorism is still fresh, Le Pen’s message found its mark. “I just cried and cried,” said Odile Tixier, 67, recalling the night of the attack. “Because Nice is my city. I’m Niçoise, my parents are Niçois, my grandparents were Niçois. It was very traumatizing.”
For 32-year-old Vincent, the attack had hit close to home, quite literally. “The truck stopped 50 meters from my apartment,” he says, asking The Post not to print his last name for privacy reasons. “I keep thinking, it could’ve been me. It’s shocking.”
Vincent voted in the first round for François Asselineau, a minor candidate who campaigned on a platform to exit the European Union. With Asselineau out of contention — he received less than one percent of the vote — Vincent decided to vote for Marine Le Pen, and had come to a party rally for the first time. “I’ve always liked the National Front,” he said. “The attack just reinforced my conviction for the party.”
Arnaud, 50, also voted for Asselineau in the first round because he found Le Pen “a bit too xenophobic, a bit extreme.” But in the second round, Le Pen’s tough stance on security would outweigh his concerns about her more extreme position on immigration. “I’m sick of watching people die,” said Arnaud, who also declined to give his last name because of privacy concerns. He was particularly incensed by last week’s attack in Paris, in which a police officer was shot and killed on the Champs-Elysee: “We shouldn’t have to put up with that.”
It’s still not clear how much Le Pen’s message will resonate here. “I know a lot of people who were extremely shocked by the attacks,” said Grégory, the political scientist. “But I don’t think they would vote for Le Pen.” A poll taken just before the election found that voters in Nice were more concerned about unemployment than security. And in the end, Le Pen’s first-round score was only two percentage points higher than in the 2012 election, about the same increase as her surge in support nationally.
But some Nice residents have been convinced. Among them is 75-year-old Marc, who declined to give his last name. He is a hardcore Fillon supporter who says he could never vote for Macron. “There has to be a counterbalance against the left,” he said. “We’ve been too slack, and now we’re paying for it. It’s going to be a tough fight against terrorism.” And he has high hopes for the National Front. “Brexit was great, Trump was great,” he said. “Le Pen could be great too.”