French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has suffered yet another blow. While Alain Juppe has signaled he's willing to step in, centrist party UDI has abandoned the Republicans and called for a new candidate.
Conservative candidate Francois Fillon's campaign took a major hit Friday, following the announced resignation of both the campaign spokesman and director on Friday.
Campaign director Patrick Stefanini announced he was bowing out of the campaign, and Fillon's campaign staff accepted it according to a statement from Fillon's campaign. Stefanini is planning to stay until the end of a rally on Sunday, after which he will be replaced by Vincent Chriqui.
The weekly newspaper Journal de Dimanche published Stefanini's resignation letter, which he said "little or nothing" remained of his work constructing a "broad alliance of the right and center" behind Fillon.
Thierry Solere, Fillon campaign spokesman, announced on Twitter he would step down from his position as Francois Fillon's campaign spokesman. His resignation adds to a growing list of campaign associates who have parted ways with the beleaguered Fillon's political team.
Solere failed to disclose specific reason for his departure.
His decision to step down comes just two days after former agricultural minister and Fillon campaign manager Bruno Le Maire also resigned from the conservative candidate's team.
As his reason for quitting, Le Maire cited Fillon's somewhat unexpected announcement that he would stay in the presidential race despite being placed under formal investigation.
Centrist party abandons Republicans
Other members who have quit Fillon's campaign include two deputy directors and the team's treasurer.
In an interview on Friday, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, the leader of the centrist UDI party, also confirmed that the party had withdrawn its support from the scandal-hit Fillon - urging the Republicans to settle on an alternative.
"We ask the Republicans to change candidate and if they do not, we will not be able to continue our alliance," Jean-Christophe Lagarde told French daily Ouest France.
The 62-year-old's bid for the French presidency has been rocked by accusations that his wife and children received payment for parliamentary work they did not carry out.
Despite the scandal and internal party dissent, an indignant Fillon announced on Wednesday he would continue to fight for his party's official. He meets investigative magistrates on March 15, just two days before the deadline for parties to formally confirm their candidates.
Should Fillon have the Juppe jitters?
Ready to benefit from Fillon's financial fiasco is fellow conservative politician and current Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppe. Though Fillon defeated the 71-year-old veteran politician in the November 2016 party primaries, Juppe has signaled his willingness to replace Fillon as the conservative party's presidential candidate, should Fillon eventually pull out of the race.
Juppe "will not refuse if all the conditions are met - Francois Fillon has to take the decision to pull out himself and the right-wing and center camps ... have to be united behind him," an anonymous member of Juppe's political team told AFP.
Replacing Fillon could provide a last-minute boost to the conservative party before first-round voting begins on April 23.
A race still in flux
An Odoxa poll released Friday showed that Fillon would be eliminated were the first-round vote to be held today. Only 19 percent of respondents would cast their ballot for the embattled politician, landing him in third place behind centrist Emmanuel Macron with 27 percent and the Front National's Marine Le Pen with 25.5 percent. The top two finishers in the first round proceed to the decisive runoff in May.
A different poll published by Opinionway on Friday also saw Fillon earn a distant third-place finish behind Macron and Le Pen. But their results revealed Le Pen - and not Macron - would win the first round of voting, though Macron would defeat the far-right nationalist in May's final runoff.
However, a Juppe candidacy could reshape the race's outcome. According to Odoxa, he would earn 26.5 percent of respondent's initial vote and thereby top both Macron and Le Pen in April.
ksb, cmb, kbd/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)