AMIENS, France – Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen turned an appliance factory into a battleground Wednesday for France’s blue-collar vote, upstaging rival Emmanuel Macron with a surprise campaign stop at the plant threatened with closure.
Chaotic scenes followed as Macron, a pro-European Union centrist, sought to wrestle back the initiative by making his own, impromptu stop at the Whirlpool clothes-dryer plant in Amiens, spending over an hour in Le Pen’s wake trying to reason with angry employees who asked why the former finance minister hadn’t come there earlier.
The remarkable drama, broadcast live on French news channels, transformed the plant in northern France into a symbol of the diametrically opposed campaigns of Le Pen and Macron before their May 7 runoff election.
As Macron met elsewhere with the workers’ union leaders, Le Pen displayed her political guile by grabbing the spotlight and popping up outside the factory itself. Surrounded by employees in bright-yellow hazard vests, she declared herself the workers’ candidate and vowed that if elected, she would not let the factory close.
“We’ll get you out of here,” Le Pen said as she hugged a woman in the crowd outside the plant, its fences decorated with workers’ banners. “I am the candidate of workers, the candidate of the French who don’t want their jobs taken away.”
Her wily campaign maneuver stole Macron’s thunder and put him on the defensive. It prompted him to make his own trip to the factory a few hours later — which quickly looked like he had fallen into a trap set by Le Pen. Live TV coverage of his visit looked chaotic and potentially damaging, with people whistling, booing and chanting “Marine, president!” in the background.
“Why didn’t you come before?” one woman asked.
“Save our jobs, Monsieur Macron!” yelled a man.
But Macron, appearing in a suit and tie amid the workers, held his ground. Where Le Pen’s visit was short — with a few selfies, hugs, kisses and a quick speech to the cameras — Macron spent over an hour patiently, and at times passionately, explaining in often-heated exchanges that as president, he wouldn’t be able to stop companies from laying off workers. The back and forth was shown live on Macron’s Facebook page, signaling a desire not to let Le Pen hog the limelight.
“I won’t lie to you,” he said. “There is no…