'Rich man' Emmanuel Macron is reviled in his own French region
Voters in Macron's hometown of Amiens say they are caught between a rock and a hard place as the second round approaches.
LONGUEAU, FRANCE — Forget about having a home court advantage. In this economically depressed region of northern France, near where Emmanuel Macron grew up, there is little affection for the local boy who went on to become one of his country's youngest-ever presidents.
Several locals, on the other hand, described him as a wealthy man who is disconnected from the everyday concerns of "little people."
Some said they planned to vote for his opponent, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, in the presidential election's final round on April 24.
"I don't like Macron at all -- he's a rich man's president," said retired accountant Didier Balesdens as he stood in line at the market in Longueau, on the outskirts of Amiens, where Macron grew up.
"He lent money to large corporations during the pandemic, but couldn't he have taken some of their profits and used them to help people?"
Balesdens, who voted for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, is hesitant to vote for Le Pen because she is concerned about the tensions her immigration policies would cause if she were elected president.
Such contempt on his home turf highlights Macron's broader challenges.
Despite defeating Le Pen by 5 percentage points in the first round of the election last Sunday, Macron must now persuade a much larger swath of the electorate — specifically, left-wing voters — to support him in the runoff.
Macron has rushed to soften his image in the run-up to the final round, mindful of the challenge.
He has backed down on his proposal to raise the retirement age to 65, and has offered to rehire unvaccinated nurses who were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Balesdens and others like him are not persuaded by the last-minute changes.
Locals interviewed by POLITICO in Longueau, just a short drive from where Macron grew up in the Somme department, expressed widespread hostility toward Macron this week.
"He hasn't left good memories here," Longueau mayor and left-wing independent Pascal Ourdouillé said, referring to Macron's failed attempt to keep a local Whirlpool factory open.
Even though Macron's government boasts that it has reduced unemployment to its lowest level since 2008, it is local job losses that have made headlines in this country.
During Macron's presidency, the closure of the white goods factory became a symbol of his fight to keep industrial jobs in France.
During the presidential election campaign in 2017, both Le Pen and Macron met with Whirlpool workers and promised to try to keep the factory open if elected.
"He came here, put on a show, made promises and didn't keep them," Ourdouillé explained, recalling that the factory closed in 2018 despite several attempts to save it.
Inroads into the National Rally
Others in Longueau said that despite their disappointment, they would stick by Macron in the second round.
"I don't like either of them, especially Le Pen," said Jacqueline Mast, a left-wing supporter.
Mast is echoing left-wingers such as Paris' Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, and the Greens' Yannick Jadot, who are urging voters to vote for Macron in order to keep the far right out of power after being knocked out of the race in the first round.
In 2017, Macron benefited from what is known as the "Republican front" against the far right, in which left-wing voters who are opposed to a far-right candidate gaining power vote for the opposing camp despite their reservations.
But things aren't quite so simple this time.
This former commuter town for railway workers overwhelmingly supported the Socialist Party ten years ago.
Many people here believe Le Pen's strategy of detoxifying the National Rally is working for her.
She has not only abandoned unpopular commitments to leave the EU and toned down her anti-immigrant rhetoric, but she has also pursued a more pragmatic agenda, campaigning on bread-and-butter issues and promising to cut taxes on basic foodstuffs and fuel in the face of skyrocketing inflation.
"Her proposals have echoes here."
"Railroad workers don't make a lot of money, and they've been hit hard by inflation," said Jol Brunet, a retired teacher and communist.
In the last presidential election, 60 percent of Longueau voters supported Macron in a runoff vote against Le Pen, despite only 23 percent voting for him in the first round.
Brunet believes Macron will not receive the same level of support this time around.
"I don't think it'll flip in favour of Le Pen, but it'll be a lot tighter," he predicted.
"It's starting to irritate me that we have to vote for a candidate we don't agree with just to keep the far-right from gaining power," he said.
Back in the mayor's office, Ourdouillé is confident that the national vote will go to Macron in the second round on April 24.
"I'm not concerned at all."
Some people would prefer better odds.