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**Outsider Gains Ground in French Presidential Race
Pro-European candidate Emmanuel Macron climbs in opinion polls as rivals take a harder line
As recently as December, you could get odds of 16:1 on Emmanuel Macron winning the French presidency. Most pundits were convinced that the 39 year-old former economy minister, who quit President Francois Hollande’s government to run as an independent candidate, stood little chance.
At a time when European voters are embracing anti-austerity, euroskeptic populist parties, Mr. Macron is an unabashed pro-European and enthusiast for liberal market reform.
He has never held elected office, has no national party organization behind him, and seemed doomed to end up competing for the crowded center ground against a Republican party led by the centrist Alain Juppé and a Socialist Party under the centrist Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
Yet remarkably, Mr. Macron now finds himself almost alone in the wide open center ground…
Meanwhile the latest polls show Mr. Macron in what is effectively a statistical three-way heat to make the second round run-off on May 7 with Mr. Fillon and the far-right leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen.
These polls also suggest that Mr. Macron would currently decisively beat either of them. Since then, Mr. Fillon’s candidacy has been convulsed by a scandal over his alleged use of public money to employ his wife and children. Not surprisingly, bookmakers now make Mr. Macron the clear favorite to win.
Even so, Mr. Macron still has work to do. His challenge rests on two bold claims: that he can reform France and that he reform Europe. His credentials as a reformer are not in doubt.
He has built an impressive grass roots campaigning organization, En Marche, which this week hit 170,000 supporters and which he now says will field candidates in the June elections for the National Assembly…**