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As France Election Looms, Terror Attacks Weigh On the Minds of Voters

Will fear push some to choose Le Pen? Will more voters show up feeling they must block Le Pen and her populist, nationalist ideas, from taking the presidency?

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By Thursday evening, some media outlets were remarking on the triple symbolism of the Champs-Élysées attack.

The targets were the French police, the most emblematic avenue in France, and an election campaign hitting a nail-biting climax.

The attack occurred as all 11 candidates in this first round of the election were making their final live TV appearance.

The next day, campaign rallies were canceled and candidates chose to make solemn pronouncements as to how they would meet the Islamic terror challenge if they were to become president.

Far right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen called once more for a Frexit, a break from the European Union, restoring France’s sovereignty by shutting France’s borders, making Salafist Islam illegal and stopping immigration.

Many on social media called to vote for this law-and-order candidate, as “the only one who has what it takes to fight this terror,” while Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve blasted Le Pen for trying to take political advantage of the attack. “She is shamelessly looking to exploit fear and emotion for wholly political ends,“ he said. “Nothing leads me to make any link between immigration and asylum and what happen last night in Paris.”

He then called on the French to “vote responsibly.”

There is no doubt this latest attack will have an impact on how the French cast their ballot, but with a record number of undecided voters this year, about 40 percent, it’s hard to know which impact it will have. Never has there been such an angst-ridden climate of terror attacks in an election and people may vote more out of emotional reaction rather than rational and pragmatic thought.

Will fear push some to choose Le Pen? Will more voters show up feeling they must block Le Pen and her populist, nationalist ideas, from taking the presidency?

Polls indicate that Marine Le Pen will be a contender in the second round of this run-off election, and that most likely she will face Emmanuel Macron, who is running as an independent even though he was finance minister under socialist president François Hollande. The 39-year-old Macron is not well known and for many French voters, his “independent” label is suspicious and meaningless. Some may view him next to Le Pen as unpredictable when it comes to fighting terror. But he has been the leading contender for a while, and would be likely to beat Le Pen 60-40 in the second round of voting on May 7.

Still, if that were the case, it would likely not be out of hope and devotion on the part of French voters, but rather out of need to eliminate extremist Marine Le Pen.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the left-wing candidate perceived by some as France’s Bernie Sanders, the fallen conservative candidate François Fillon and socialist candidate Benoît Hamon have been up and down in the polls and probably have no chance of making it to the second round. But after Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, polls don’t hold as much weight as they used to.

Anyone is allowed to ignore reality and dream big.

Friday night, traffic — both car and pedestrian — was back to normal on the Champs Élysées.

French police are mourning officer Xavier Jugelé, who was shot on Thursday night. It’s worth noting that in a twist of sad irony, the 37-year-old policeman and proud LGBT activist was one of the policemen who responded to the Bataclan attack in Paris in November 2015 and helped reopen the theater a year later.

As for French undecided voters, no doubt there is much soul-searching left to do in the hours left before casting a ballot in this most unusual presidential election.

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