Left-leaning newspaper Libération led with the headline “Déjà abattu?” (“Already beaten?”). Le Monde’s Wednesday edition headlined that his camp was “stricken with fear of defeat”.
Sarkozy has raised the prospect of an end to his political career, less than three months ahead of a presidential election that is looking increasingly difficult for him to win.
While the “hyperactive” Sarkozy is not expected to officially announce his candidacy before the end of February or early March, France knows he is already on the campaign trail.
With speculation about the president’s future rising, the harshest comment came Tuesday from centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, tipped to win between 12 and 14 percent of the first round vote on April 22nd.
“Everyone can see that for Nicolas Sarkozy, his position is compromised. So it’s up to him to reflect, to look at the situation as it is,” Bayrou told RTL radio.
Latest opinion polls give right-wing Sarkozy around 23 percent of votes in the first round, 30 percent to his Socialist rival François Hollande, and 18 percent to far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen.
Faith in Sarkozy’s future, even within his own camp, has reportedly wilted in recent weeks.
Sarkozy discussed his hypothetical defeat with a small group of journalists, including from AFP, during his trip to French Guiana over the weekend.
He said he was “certain” he would end his life in politics if defeated.
“I would completely change my life, you won’t hear about me anymore if I’m beaten,” he said.
At 56 years old, “he’s thinking that his life after politics will be more pleasant. Not more interesting, but more pleasant,” his former interior minister and close aide Brice Hortefeux told Le Monde.
The pro-government Le Figaro interpreted the same Sarkozy quotes as showing that he “remains serene in the face of Hollande”.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, at one time considered the best replacement candidate should Sarkozy not stand, has repeatedly voiced his support for the president.
“I saw him this morning … he didn’t give me that impression (of doubt) at all. He appears totally resolved to go for victory,” Juppé said.
Sarkozy’s introspective mood, whether real or imagined, has filtered through to the press after Hollande held his first mass campaign rally with 20,000 followers on Sunday. Hollande is to present his detailed presidential programme on Thursday.
Opinion polls say that in a second round vote on May 6th, Hollande would beat Sarkozy by 53 percent to 47 percent, despite a string of Hollande faux pas.
Another poll on candidates’ credibility said the French had more faith in Hollande on maintaining their purchasing power, dealing with unemployment and education and answering the concerns of the French.
Sarkozy nevertheless remains the candidate with the best “stature of a president of the republic”, the poll said.