PARIS—When French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron stepped on stage at the AccorHotels Arena Monday afternoon for his final major rally before the first round of voting, 20,000 people filled the stands, and many others watched on screens outside. “Do you hear the murmur of spring? It’s the sound of a page of political life turning, that you are turning,” he said. “Do you know what will happen next week? On Sunday, we will win, and it will be the beginning of a new France!”
That Macron can draw a thousands-strong crowd is stunning: A year ago, Macron had no party, no operation, and was still serving as economy minister under President François Hollande. Today, with a quarter of a million members in his En Marche (“On the Move”) movement, he has cemented his status as a frontrunner in the French election—and if the polls are correct, he is the likeliest next president of France.
The 39-year-old candidate has managed to do something that, at least in France and certainly in the United States, is next to impossible: He has created a political movement of his own, one with a real chance at victory, and all in just over a year.
The political headwinds of 2017 have helped Macron along: Casting himself as an outsider in a season of extreme anti-establishment animus has bolstered his case, and he’s benefited from center-right candidate François Fillon’s scandals and the shrinking support for Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon. Macron bills himself as a centrist candidate who can combat the populist appeal of the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen.