After "the battle of Whirlpool," when Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron both went hunting for France's blue-collar vote at a threatened home appliance factory, the presidential candidates clashed over fish in a return to more traditional campaigning on Thursday.
The anti-European Union far-right populist Le Pen was up before dawn to cruise aboard a fishing trawler on the Mediterranean. The sea trip was her latest television-friendly effort to portray herself as the candidate of France's workers against the centrist former banker and finance minister Macron, whom she paints as the candidate of the financial, political and pro-EU elite.
Macron had a scheduled television appearance on Thursday evening.
"My grandfather was a fisherman, so I am in my element," Le Pen said after her pre-dawn voyage aboard the Grace of God 2 trawler.
She said France will take back control of its maritime policies if she is elected in the second-round vote on May 7. She again tore into Macron's more economically liberal program. Macron fired back on Twitter, saying her proposals to take France out of the EU would sink France's fishing industry.
"Have a nice trip. Europe's exit she proposes, it's the end of French fishing. Think about it," he tweeted.
With her sea voyage, Le Pen continued to hammer home the blue-collar theme she sought ownership of Wednesday with her surprise visit to the threatened Whirlpool clothes-dryer factory in northern France.
That wily campaign maneuver put Macron on the defensive and prompted him to also meet angry Whirlpool workers later that same day.
On Thursday, newspapers and commentators debated which of the two candidates scored the most points in the remarkable Whirlpool drama that highlighted their clash of styles and was broadcast live on French news channels.
"War is declared," ran the front-page headline Thursday of the daily Liberation.
Former presidential candidate Francois Bayrou — a Macron ally — awarded victory to the centrist, saying Macron showed courage by spending over an hour trying to reason with workers at the plant in Amiens.
Bayrou, speaking Thursday on BFM television, said Macron's impromptu visit — his attempt to take back the initiative after Le Pen stole his thunder by popping up before him earlier in the day at the Whirlpool factory gates — could have been ``very bad for him.''
Macron was whistled and booed when he first arrived, in chaotic scenes. But he stood his ground, patiently and at times passionately debating workers in often heated exchanges about how to stop French jobs from moving abroad.
"Arriving to whistles, he [Macron] left shaking hands" and showed his character, Bayrou said.