Sarkozy promises ‘strong France’ as he loses endearment of voters
PARIS | On the walls of No. 18, Rue de la Convention, a huge billboard bearing President Nicolas Sarkozy’s profile notes his new slogan: “A Strong France.”
Inside campaign headquarters, about 30 staff members work to spread the word. Most are young, but they have long been a part of the Sarkozy success story — which many in France think is about to come to an end.
“At the moment, it seems that a majority of the French want to get rid of a president who has fallen from grace,” said Dominique Moisi, senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations, a Paris think tank.
“The handicap for Nicolas Sarkozy is big. It’s not his record. It’s him. In the end, he is not loved. The French don’t like him; they find him nervous, excessive. They need reassurance, and he doesn’t reassure them.”
In May 2007, Mr. Sarkozy won the presidential election against Socialist candidate Segolene Royal and took office as one of the most popular presidents since World War II hero Charles de Gaulle. Then, he embodied
action and change. In February 2008, he further burnished his image when he married Italian-born supermodel Carla Bruni.
Now the equation has changed as Mr. Sarkozy seeks a second term.
Not only does Mr. Sarkozy, 57, suffer from a serious image problem, but he also needs to convince voters that he has been successful in handling the economic and debt crisis, even though it has led to unpopular austerity measures and a loss of France’s AAA bond rating in January.
“Today we have the leadership on ideas. The current political debates revolve around Nicolas Sarkozy’s ideas, not around those stemming from the opposition,” said Franck Louvrier, communication counselor and one of the president’s closest aides.
“‘A strong France’ is the vision of a country that can protect the French, whereas the only idea [his opponents] have is ‘change.’ But change is just a political act, it’s not a vision for the future.”
Strength versus change
LEADER OF THE PACK: Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande has surpassed Mr. Sarkozy in polls even though he has never held elective office in France.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, campaigning for re-election in the Basque city of Bayonne, took refuge last week when his visit was disrupted by a boisterous crowd.