Eve of the Election

Jonn Elledge attends an Obama rally in North Carolina filled with passionate and unlikely Democrats.

It takes a certain strength of character to vote against just about everyone of your skin colour because of something you see as a moral issue. So to go to an Obama rally with your mouth covered with red duck tape bearing a slogan accusing the senator of killing babies must take a quite colossal nerve.

I almost admired the young black man waiting inside the rally enclosure, staring fixedly at the crowd as it filed in. But still, the guy was wasting his time. We'd already been confronted in the hour long queue by four anti-abortion campaigners, standing silently holding posters of aborted foetuses, while the ring-leader harangued us through a megaphone. But all they got in response was a rousing chorus of, 'Yes we can'.

'Oh yes we can murder babies, you mean?' he yelled, but someone shouted back, 'You need a bigger speaker man, we can't hear you.'

This wasn't really his audience. The night before the election, in the brand new swing state of North Carolina, this was a crowd of true believers who just wanted to catch one last glimpse of their leader before the campaign ended.

They stood for an hour in the driving rain, listening to a succession of lesser speakers explaining the need to get the vote out or running through the roll call of local Democratic candidates.

These guys would have waited through anything for that moment when Obama finally appeared on stage. The girl next to me had driven three hours from Georgia, on her own, just to see him in the flesh. When the rain began, the hundreds in the queue surged forward, breaking through the first line of security barriers. Once close enough to see, they stood waiting patiently, just like everybody else.

In the crowd I spotted a woman with a buggy bearing a sign reading, 'Obama rocks me - born Democrat 2008.' There was a boy in a t-shirt reading, 'Obama is not a muslim, but I am - and I approve this message.' There was a girl telling her friends that her mother in Alaska had been handing out bumper stickers reading, 'Wasila moms for Obama-Biden.'

There were hundreds of young black men and women, who the numbers say would not normally be voting at all. Yet when one speaker asked the crowd who had cast their ballot, almost every hand went up.

The Senator spoke for about twenty minutes. He talked briefly of his grandmother, who had died the previous night, and for a moment seemed to be crying. But otherwise it was the same stump speech I'd already heard a dozen times on the TV and radio over the last fortnight.

The words weren't what mattered, though. What mattered to these people was that Obama had come far enough to be able to speak to them: Democrats who had lost hope that anyone who wasn't called Clinton could ever beat the Republican machine and African Americans who had never really believed they would see this in their lifetime. Without complaint, they put up with the queues and the cramp and the protesters and the rain, just to see him speak.

Before the event, my photographer had told me that he was so thoroughly sick of the whole thing that, were he an American, he wouldn't vote for either of them. As we drove away from the rally, he admitted that he'd changed his mind.

Once it was over, without so much as a second's pause, the crowd turned to leave. A few lined the nearby roads, on the offchance they would see his car pass by, but most were happy just to go. They'd got what they came for.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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French presidential election: Macron and Le Pen projected to reach run-off

The centrist former economy minister and the far-right leader are set to contest the run-off on 7 May.

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will contest the run-off of the French presidential election, according to the first official projection of the first-round result.

Macron, the maverick former economy minister, running under the banner of his centrist En Marche! movement, is projected to finish first with an estimated 23.7 per cent of the vote, putting him marginally ahead of Le Pen. The leader of the far-right Front National is estimated to have won 21.7 per cent, with the scandal-hit Républicain François Fillon and the left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon tied for third on an estimated 19.5 per cent each. Benoît Hamon, of the governing Socialist Party, is set to finish a distant fourth on just 6.2 per cent. Pollsters Ifop project a turnout of around 81 per cent, slightly up on 2012.

Macron and Le Pen will now likely advance to the run-off on 7 May. Recent polling has consistently indicated that Macron, who at 39 would be the youngest candidate ever to win the French presidency, would probably beat Le Pen with roughly 60 per cent of the vote to her 40. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, he told Agence France Presse that his En Marche! was "turning a page in French political history", and went on to say his candidacy has fundamentally realigned French politics. "To all those who have accompanied me since April 2016, in founding and bringing En Marche! to life, I would like to say this," he told supporters. " 'In the space of a year, we have changed the face of French political life.' "

Le Pen similarly hailed a "historic" result. In a speech peppered with anti-establishment rhetoric, she said: "The first step that should lead the French people to the Élysée has been taken. This is a historic result.

"It is also an act of French pride, the act of a people lifting their heads. It will have escaped no one that the system tried by every means possible to stifle the great political debate that must now take place. The French people now have a very simple choice: either we continue on the path to complete deregulation, or you choose France.

"You now have the chance to choose real change. This is what I propose: real change. It is time to liberate the French nation from arrogant elites who want to dictate how it must behave. Because yes, I am the candidate of the people."

The projected result means the run-off will be contested by two candidates from outside France's establishment left and right parties for the first time in French political history. Should Le Pen advance to the second round as projected, it will mark only the second time a candidate from her party has reached the run-off. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, reached the second round in 2002, but was decisively beaten by Jacques Chirac after left-wingers and other mainstream voters coalesced in a so-called front républicain to defeat the far right.

Fillon has conceded defeat and backed Macron, as have Hamon and the French prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve. "We have to choose what is best for our country," Fillon said. "Abstention is not in my genes, above all when an extremist party is close to power. The Front National is well known for its violence and its intolerance, and its programme would lead our country to bankruptcy and Europe into chaos.

"Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron. I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children."

Though Hamon acknowledged that the favourite a former investment banker – was no left-winger, he said: "I make a distinction between a political adversary and an enemy of the Republic."

Mélenchon, however, has refused to endorse Macron, and urged voters to consult their own consciences ahead of next month's run-off.

The announcement sparked ugly scenes in Paris in the Place de la Bastille, where riot police have deployed tear gas on crowds gathered to protest Le Pen's second-place finish. Reaction from the markets was decidedly warmer: the euro hit a five-month high after the projection was announced.

Now read Pauline Bock on the candidate most likely to win, and the NS'profiles of Macron and Le Pen.

 

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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