Xavier Bertrand, ex-insurance salesman, takes on Emmanuel Macron in French presidential race

Xavier Bertrand, a “smalltown politician” and former insurance salesman, is now emerging as a potential dark horse in next year’s presidential election in France and looking to topple Emmanuel Macron from his post. It was assumed by many that the upcoming polls would be a straight contest between Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) and far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, but the meteoric rise of two-time minister Bertrand has complicated the scene, news agencies reported.

Bertrand, the 56-year-old former health and labor minister, reckons he can topple the current president by casting himself as the anti-Macron candidate. Playing his working-class roots up, Bertrand is hoping to stoke the anger in provincial France over a feeling that the government favours Paris and helped stoke the Yellow Vests protests that marked Macron’s third year in office.

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“Bertrand’s gamble is to win the support of the right, with a classical, traditional right-wing agenda,” while appearing as an outsider “to expand his reach to less well-off voters, including left-wing voters who dislike the president,” news agency Bloomberg quoted Remi Lefebvre, a political scientist in Lille, as saying.

According to a report by Politico, Xavier Bertrand’s “crushing victory” over Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in a far-right bastion could prove to be rather concerning for the latter, since the electoral win proves that Le Pen’s allies could be defeated by a conservative. This has directly shifted the spotlight towards Bertrand, whose bid for the presidency had failed to garner much attention until now, even though it was announced back in March this year.

Bertrand, although his chances of winning slim in a projected neck-to-neck election between Macron and Le Pen next year in France, could still create enough problems by peeling off voters to prevent either of his two rivals from reaching the runoff round, the report noted.

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According to a recent survey on the upcoming French presidential elections, Xavier Bertrand is projected to win 18% of the votes in the first round of the contest, while Le Pen and Macron are both expected to get around 25% votes.

If Bertrand can overtake Le Pen to qualify for the runoff, it would transform the race and potentially put French president Emmanuel Macron, who has been shaping up for a scrap with the nationalist leader, on the back foot.

Bertrand says he just wants to end “the mess” that Macron’s policies have created. Asked at the conference if he was worried about being pushed out by the two top contenders, Bertrand smiled and replied: “Do I look like the worried type?”

(With inputs from agencies)