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The French president has a long way to go to beat Francois Hollande.
“Given the unprecedented crisis in which France and Europe find themselves, not to run would have been tantamount to abandoning my post,” Sarkozy said in a live TV interview to announce his candidacy under the slogan “La France forte,” or Strong France.
His decision to join the race was never in doubt, despite the large lead in the polls that his main Socialist rival, Francois Hollande, has opened up.
Sarkozy said he took the decision months ago, but held back from declaring to enable him to concentrate on running the country.
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With the first round of voting scheduled for April 22, latest polls have Sarkozy training at around 25 percent compared to 30 percent for Hollande.
Snapping at the incumbent’s heels are Martine Le Pen of the far right National Front at around 17 percent and maverick Centrist Francois Bayrou on 12.
If Sarkozy faces Hollande in the second round run-off on May 5, a poll published Tuesday in the daily Le Figaro showed the Socialist winning 57.5 percent to 42.5 for Sarkozy.
But it may be too early to write off “Sarko.”
The president has proved to be a feisty campaigner. His immediately launched an attack on Hollande’s “unrealistic” plans to respond to the debt crisis by taxing banks and the rich while hiring more state employees.
“Has he no ideas to put on the table?” he asked of Hollande. “Is it realistic to tell people that we’re going to hire 60,000 extra civil servants?”
Sarkozy is going have to rely on all his street-fighting wiles to claw back the poll deficit and shake off accusations that his five years in power have done little to halt rising unemployment, economic decline and expanding public debt that led the Standard and Poor’s rating agency to downgrade France’s cherished AAA status last month.
“This doesn’t change anything,” Le Pen said of Sarkozy’s announcement. “Sarkozy is trying to make us forget that his record on unemployment, on purchasing power, on immigration is awful.”
Sarkozy TV appearance Wednesday was light on new policy ideas, although he promised to hold more referendums to give a voice to French voters who feel alienated by the political elite. The first, he said, would be on proposals to put the unemployed into re-training schemes.