, PARIS, Feb 15 – French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to announce his bid for re-election on Wednesday, setting the stage for what he hopes will be a dramatic comeback against his poll-leading Socialist rival.
Sources in Sarkozy’s office told AFP he would officially confirm his candidacy on TF1 television during its evening news report.
With only 10 weeks before the first round of the presidential vote on April 22, right-wing Sarkozy is lagging in the polls, struggling with image problems and burdened with a moribund economy.
But 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 frontrunner Francois Hollande.
Elysee sources said his campaign team was already in place, with Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet as spokeswoman and Henri Guaino, Sarkozy’s special advisor, as speechwriter.
Sarkozy, 57, was to hold his first election rally Thursday in the Alpine town of Annecy and a mass rally on Sunday in the southern port city of Marseille, sources said.
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 French newspaper 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 percent tax on financial transactions.
But his efforts so far have not translated into a boost in opinion polls.
An IFOP survey published Tuesday found Hollande down by one point but still well ahead with 30 percent support. Sarkozy trailed with 25.5 percent — up half a percentage point — in the first round.
Under this forecast, Hollande would be the clear winner in the second round with 57.5 percent of the vote, against Sarkozy’s 42.5 percent.
“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 Francois Fillon, a long-time Sarkozy ally, told Le Monde on Monday.
“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 said Sarkozy’s announcement would make little difference in public opinion.
“Everyone already knew he was a candidate. This changes nothing in the political situation or in my campaign,” said Hollande, who is to hold a major campaign rally in his hometown of Rouen on Wednesday night.
“I’m going at my own pace. I have my own schedule and I will not let myself be distracted,” he said.
Some in Hollande’s campaign, however, were warning that they are now facing a tough battle.
“It will be brutal,” Hollande’s campaign director, Pierre Moscovici, said Sunday, 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 challenges from far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the National Front, who is polling between 16 and 20 percent, and centrist Francois Bayrou, who is polling between 12 and 14 percent.
A source close to Sarkozy told Le Figaro that the campaign 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 admitted.