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Le Pen appears to have visited the factory to upstage Macron

Macron is being portrayed by Le Pen camp as out of touch with the people

(CNN) —  

A factory that produces tumble dryers has become the dirtiest battlefield yet in the French presidential election.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen appears to have upstaged her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron at the closure-threatened Whirlpool factory in his home town of Amiens.

While he was meeting union representatives at the Chamber of Commerce in the town, she rushed to the factory gates to meet workers. Le Pen was greeted warmly and took selfies with the employees, while Macron was jeered when he appeared there later.

Both are locked in a bitter battle with just over a week to go until the second-round vote, on May 7. Macron is the frontrunner, but Le Pen is hoping to gain ground by portraying him as an out-of-touch elitist.

“Emmanuel Macron was coming here, and he didn’t plan on meeting the employees or coming to the picket line, but was going under protection to some room in the Chamber of Commerce to meet two or three hand-picked people,” Le Pen told the workers, a Reuters video shows.

“I thought it was evidence of such disdain for what the Whirlpool employees are going through that I decided to leave my campaign meeting and to come and see you.”

When Macron arrived later, striking workers burnt tires, booed him and shouted “President Marine! President Marine!” But he engaged them in a robust debate, accusing Le Pen of mounting a stunt.

“Ms. Le Pen is using this for political ends, because she’s going to harangue political activists in a car park,” Macron said.

“If Ms. Le Pen were elected, and I would like everyone who lives and works in this region to know it, if Ms. Le Pen were elected this business would close. And I could cite dozens of others. That’s what makes me different, the approach and the substance.”

Macron was jeered when he first arrived at the factory.
PHOTO: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
Macron was jeered when he first arrived at the factory.

Le Pen’s camp has attempted to capitalize on mis-steps by Macron, who celebrated his victory in the first round of voting last Sunday by taking his staff and celebrity friends to an upscale brasserie in Paris.

“I am in the middle of employees who resist to wild globalization. I am not with the managers who eat petit fours,” Le Pen said, according to BFMTV.

Le Pen, 48, is challenging Macron on an anti-immigrant, anti-EU platform. Fresh off the highest-ever voting tally for her National Front party, she stepped aside from the party leadership this week, in an apparent attempt to widen her support base.

“I am saying this very clearly: It won’t close. And to be honest, those in this campaign who suggest that they are taking an interest in Whirlpool all the while supporting all the economic policies which create unfair competition internationally and allow companies to relocate, I think it’s a real scandal. It’s more than hypocrisy, it’s betrayal,” she told workers.

Macron won 24.01% of the first round voting, while the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Le Pen came second on 21.30%. Eleven candidates contested that the first round.

He attracted support from left and right with promises to boost the economy and improve security. His party, “En Marche!” which was only created in September, now has more than 200,000 members and his meetings have attracted vast crowds.

Like Trump, Le Pen has risen on populist politics rooted in anger over immigration policies, globalization and middle class economic disenfranchisement.

CNN’s Stephanie Halasz contributed to this report.