Trailing Sarkozy to announce bid for re-election

French president Nicolas Sarkozy will announce his bid for re-election tonight, setting the stage for what he hopes will be a dramatic comeback against his poll-leading Socialist rival, a source in his office said.

With only 10 weeks before the first round of the presidential vote on Apr 22, right-wing Sarkozy is lagging in the polls, struggling with image problems and burdened with a moribund economy.

His team is confident that once officially in the race Sarkozy, a seasoned and charismatic campaigner, will be able to quickly make up ground on Socialist front-runner François Hollande.

Élysée sources said he would officially confirm his candidacy on TF1 television in its 7pm news show and will announce that ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet will be his campaign spokeswoman.

Henri Guaino, Sarkozy’s special adviser, will be the campaign’s speech-writer and Sarkozy was to hold his first major election rally tomorrow in the Alpine town of Annecy.

Sarkozy has been laying the groundwork for his run in the last several weeks — portraying himself as a defender of traditional values and a steady hand in dealing with the European economic crisis.

In an interview with Le Figaro last week, he made clear he will be pushing a conservative social agenda, vowing to oppose gay marriage and euthanasia, and to restrict immigration.

In recent weeks he has also moved to shore up his reformist economic credentials, increasing the sales tax to reduce payroll charges and introducing a 0.1% tax on financial transactions.

However, his efforts so far have not translated into a boost in opinion polls.

An IFOP survey published yesterday found Hollande down by one percentage point but still well ahead with 30% support and Sarkozy trailing with 25.5% — up 0.5% — in the first round.

Under this forecast, Hollande would be the clear winner in the second round with 57.5% of the vote, against Sarkozy’s 42.5%.

“The game is far from over. The polls, the comments, all this will be wiped away in the three weeks before the election,” prime minister François Fillon, a long-time Sarkozy ally, told Le Monde.

“He has maintained his close relationship with the French people. During the campaign he will find the words and ways to reach out to them.”

Hollande’s spokesman, Benoît Hamon, said the Socialist campaign was feeling “calm” ahead of the expected announcement and denounced Sarkozy as having a “narrow and stunted vision” of France’s future.

Others in the campaign, however, were warning of a tough battle.

“It will be violent, it will be brutal,” Hollande’s campaign director Pierre Moscovici said, warning that Sarkozy “feels like he has his back to the wall and he will not back away from anything”.

As well as from the left, Sarkozy is facing a challenge from far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front, who is polling between 16 and 20% and hopes to knock him out in the first round.

A source close to Sarkozy told Le Figaro the team was counting on a quick bounce in the polls. “If he has not gained three points in the next two weeks, things will get difficult,” the source said.

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