A Look Back at NKM’s Failed Campaign

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. Photo: Thesupermat for Wikimedia Commons.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.
Photo: Thesupermat for Wikimedia Commons.

PARIS – It was a French election night that went the UMP’s way. They had strong campaigns, excitement, momentum. They had the Parti Socialiste (PS) where they wanted them – unpopular – and they left them scrambling to maintain a hint of the historic election successes they had two years ago.

But the staunchly liberal bastion of Paris refused to fall — and the UMP’s candidate for mayor of Paris, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, paid the price.

NKM saw her hopes to become the first female mayor of the nation’s capital crushed on Sunday, gaining only 42 percent of the vote compared to PS candidate Anne Hidalgo’s 55 percent.

“The Parisians, they’re tough. They’re always far to the Left,” said Catherine Levy, standing outside NKM’s headquarters in the 2nd arrondissement on election night. Levy lives in Paris and said she virtually always votes with the UMP.

“Parisians are just not ready for the Right yet,” said a UMP supporter from Brittany, shaking his head. He had come to the headquarters with his wife to show support, but he said he knew hours before the results that NKM would lose the mayoral race.

NKM conceded at about 11 p.m. on election night and gave a concession speech 30 minutes later, offering her congratulations to the many winning UMP candidates throughout France — the party took 48 percent of the vote overall. Her speech reflected composure, though she was seen crying only an hour before in the shadows of her campaign headquarters.

“It took all of my will and all of my energy. I measure, tonight, your deception. I share your sadness,” she said in her concession, addressing her supporters.

Even in defeat, she mustered a small smile while adding that “a movement has been created,” referring to the UMP’s much-improved election performance. In 2012, not only did former President Nicolas Sarkozy lose, but the UMP gained less than 40 percent of the vote in Parliamentary elections.

Marika Mathieu, an UMP supporter and author of a book about the French Right titled La droite forte : Année zéro, said the UMP’s sweeping success this time around, particularly in previously Left-voting towns like Toulouse, represented a “vague bleue.” And the worst voter turnout in the Fifth Republic — around 62 percent — showed that many Left voters had become disillusioned with their party leadership and the stubbornly weak economy and job situation.

Still, NKM had the odds stacked against her. A decade of political shuffle in some major French cities has not greatly affected Paris, which has been under Socialist control for 13 years. The two mayoral candidates’ programs were also quite similar, both highlighting social housing and public health as priorities but only differing significantly on taxation, said Robin Lewis, a radio journalist based just outside of Paris.

In an email to supporters during the week between the two rounds of voting, NKM said that “never before has change been so close,” indicating that, despite her surprising victory over Hidalgo in the first round of voting, she knew the uphill battle ahead in Paris.

NKM actually won the popular vote, with just over 35 percent of the vote to Hidalgo’s 34 percent, but she did not conquer several key arrondissements to tilt the race in her favor. She even lost her home district, the 14th, in both rounds of voting.

Hidalgo and Paris were bright spots on the horizon for the Socialists on a difficult night, one that left President Francois Hollande hurrying to do some damage control as his popularity continues to sink. The election results quickly led to the resignation of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and the dissolving of his cabinet.

But Hidalgo was all smiles, offering a chorus of “thank you’s” to a cheering crowd of supporters at Hôtel de Ville.

“This city is a city of equality,” she said in her victory speech. “We will dignify the trust you have placed in us tonight.”

Amongst all French municipalities, the UMP took home 48 percent of the overall vote total to the Socialists’ 43 percent. The Front National (FN), in the midst of a rebranding scheme meant to make the party more appealing, snagged 7 percent.

Mathieu said she wished Paris could have seen the same way as the nearly 50 French municipalities that shifted from Left to Right.

“I’m not satisfied with what continues to happen with unemployment, public health, people sleeping in the streets everywhere — the problems here are awful,” she said.

And there are more than a few Parisians who are unhappy with the city’s liberal reputation, Levy said.

“I don’t like the Left. All of their campaigns for political office are based on criticisms,” she said. “In my eyes it would be very good for the city if Paris returned to the Right.”

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