France is waiting for Nicolas Sarkozy. The French president, who has not yet declared his candidacy, will deliver an address to the nation Sunday night in what may be one of his last opportunities to use the presidential control of the airwaves to reconnect with the voter. Not only has the Socialist party candidate Francois Hollande maintained his lead in the polls, he has even extended it.
On Thursday night, he agreed to debate French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. Government members were surprised that the Socialist candidate would be willing to debate someone who is not the majority's candidate, rather than wait for Sarkozy to declare his candidacy.
The strategy became clear during the debate, when Juppe rounded on Hollande asking him why he did not even bother to mention the French president by name in his speeches.
Hollande replied "I wish to speak of the future. The past does not interest me." Sarkozy's page has already been turned, explained Hollande, the same way that Francois Mitterrand turned the page of his rival Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981. That was the first and up to now, the last time that the Socialists managed to eject an incumbent president from the right.
Juppe tried to use this response to accuse Hollande of arrogance, retorting, "you are a bit too sure of yourself to have turned the page."
The Socialist candidate has attempted to make a virtue of his blandness and pass himself off as a political mild-mannered Clark Kent "I'm not a man of problems, I'm a man of solutions…I have tried to resolve conflicts. I don't seek them, I don't stir them up."
Juppe tried to show another side of the Socialist candidate.
When Hollande was asked which other parties he expect to be in his government, the only party (currently commanding 3% of the vote for its presidential candidate Eva Joly) he mentioned was the ecology party.
Hollande does not see the far left in his government body, but he also surprised voters by saying that he was pessimistic about the centrist Democratic Movement of Francois Bayrou, as Bayrou had criticized Hollande's platform as not good. "I do not see he could participate in a government to implement a platform that is not good."
There has been growing speculation about Bayrou, who positioned himself as a third force between the right and the left in 2007, angling to establish himself as an escape hatch for voters on the right - who either dislike Sarkozy or have despaired of his chances.
While Bayrou trails Sarkozy and only comes in 4th in the public opinion polls (behind Hollande, Sarkozy and Marine LePen), the argument goes like this: Sarkozy is a dead duck on the second ballot. If Bayrou got in, he could get votes from the right, the center and even the moderate left and defeat Hollande.
Therefore, as the voting day approaches, there will be a massive swing from Sarkozy to Bayrou. Sarkozy, as in the old swashbuckler movies, will have to parry three opponents at once.