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Politics In The News: French Elections; U.S. Presidential Polls


Two great democracies faced terror attacks in recent weeks. Both attacks came amid political campaigns.


And that led to plenty of questions about how voters would react. In the United States, the presidential campaign still has many months to go.

INSKEEP: In France, the results are now in. Regional elections were decided over the weekend, and the National Front, a far-right party that raised concerns about Muslim immigration, was surprisingly defeated in every region of the country. So let's start with NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who's on the line from Paris. Hi, Eleanor.


INSKEEP: What happened?

BEARDSLEY: Well, what happened is all the voters who didn't vote in the first round were mobilized and went out and blocked the National Front. There was a big campaign. The prime minister urged people to go out and vote for French values, and that seems that that's what they did.

INSKEEP: Oh, and when you say the first round, it's a two-round election. The National Front was in great position. But you're saying that they were ultimately defeated not by one but two other parties, right?

BEARDSLEY: That's right. You know, with the two-round system, Steve, sometimes people on the first round will vote a protest vote or out of anger, so they won't really vote with their heart, the party they want to win. So sometimes it's difficult to see. So the National Front had really the highest score after the first round. There was a huge abstention rate - more than 50 percent of the voters didn't vote. And so they came out and they pulled together and they blocked - they - you know, a united front against the National Front in the second round.

INSKEEP: Well, now, with that said, what did this right-wing party gain by pushing the issue of insecurity after the terror attacks and its long-standing concern about the growing number of Muslims in the country?

BEARDSLEY: Well, right, they did push the issue of security very much so. But Steve, surprisingly, the issue of Islam and Muslims wasn't a big issue because these attacks were not seen - they were seen as an attack on all of France, on French young people, on, you know, French way of life, sitting at cafes. And Muslims were killed - in fact, these attackers, seven of them are French citizens. So these were homegrown terrorists. The fear here is of a radicalization, how these young people are becoming radicalized. So yes, security was an issue, but really Islam was not an issue. The biggest issue for the far right was the political establishment, the entrenched parties that just trade places, said Marine Le Pen, but nothing ever gets solved.

INSKEEP: Marine Le Pen, of course, the National Front leader. So one attack was in Paris, another was in San Bernardino, Calif. It's become a big part of the debate in our presidential campaign, and there's a Republican debate this week in Las Vegas. So let's bring in Cokie Roberts, as we do most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Hi, Eleanor.

INSKEEP: And how has the campaign shifted?

ROBERTS: Well, it hasn't really. Donald Trump is soaring in the national polls, although losing ground in Iowa, the first state up. But his call to keep Muslims out of the country is popular with a lot of Republican primary voters, at least they say so in answering polls at the moment. That debate in Nevada is going to be very interesting to see whether his Republican opponents go after him on that. They've been somewhat gingerly attacking him.

INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting because there were fierce denunciations of Donald Trump at the beginning by other Republican candidates, by other leading Republicans. But now the polls are out, so what do Republicans do now if they're opposed to Trump's position?

ROBERTS: They continue to take on the question of religious test, I think. But they're certainly not (laughter) backing away from any idea of trying to keep terrorists out of the country. The question is how you define terrorist, and that's become a problem both on the campaign trail and in the halls of Congress.

INSKEEP: Well, what - where do President Obama and the Democrats fit in here?

ROBERTS: Well, as I say, in the halls of Congress, the - overwhelmingly passed this week a bill to try to change the visa waiver program by which some people come into this country without a visa. And that bill now passed by the House says that people who have citizenship with Iraq, Iran, Syria, other countries in the region, as well as the United States - or as well as a European country - have to get a visa.

INSKEEP: Oh, dual citizens are treated differently, OK.

ROBERTS: That's right. And now there's some question - civil liberties groups are saying that this is unconstitutional and calling on the Senate to change it and at least to put in an exception for humanitarian workers, journalists and researchers. But the president has said he would sign the bill if it came this way to his desk. So he's not ready to balk at this either, although he is this week going to the National Archives, where the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence are housed. And he will be at a naturalization ceremony there welcoming new immigrants into this country. And I have to tell you, Steve, having been to a naturalization ceremony at the Archives, nothing makes you feel better about America than doing that.

INSKEEP: Hi, Eleanor. In about 20 seconds, have French voters paid much attention to the American campaign?

BEARDSLEY: They have paid attention to Donald Trump, I can tell you that. And his latest proposal about Muslims was seen here in line with everything else he says, completely crazy.

INSKEEP: OK. And Cokie, I have to mention, Donald Trump is in a little bit of a fight in Iowa, isn't he?

ROBERTS: Yes. Ted Cruz has really surged in a way that we have never seen a candidate surge in Iowa. But - and I think that Cruz is - has done a fabulous job of organizing. And he thinks he'll get the Trump voters and Carson voters when both collapse, which he is convinced they will do. Now Trump's gone on the offense against Ted Cruz - not surprising.

INSKEEP: OK, that's Cokie Roberts in Washington and NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris on this Monday morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.