The lineup of main contenders for France’s 2012 presidential elections was set in October 2011, when the Socialist party chose François Hollande to face the conservative incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.
At the time of Mr. Hollande’s victory in a primary, opinion polls showed him and his main rival, Martine Aubry, both with strong leads over Mr. Sarkozy. But there was not much excitement about the prospect of a Socialist victory, especially with the putative favorite, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, out of the race as a consequence of his encounter with a housekeeper in a New York hotel room.
In its early stages, it appeared to be a grumpy French presidential campaign, with only a few voters passionate about their choices. It could be called the election of “désamour,” one of those nearly untranslatable words, meaning a falling out of love, a disenchantment mixed with disillusion.
But even as Mr. Sarkozy’s unpopularity with voters continues to plumb new depths, the outcome of the contest remains far from clear, with rivals to his left and right hoping to exploit a deepening public disquiet over the ongoing euro crisis.
Mr. Hollande, a moderate in his party, was the early the overall favorite in opinion polls. But the worsening economic crisis has also mobilized France’s isolationist far right, with Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, running not far behind Mr. Sarkozy in the polls.
The Socialists enter the race a little desperate. While they have done progressively well in local elections, they have not elected a president since François Mitterrand, who left office more than 15 years ago. Even worse, in 2002, a Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, lost in the first round to Jean-Marie Le Pen, then the leader of the far right National Front, handing the election to Jacques Chirac.
In 2007, the Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal, lost badly to Mr. Sarkozy in the second round. Ms. Royal, Mr. Hollande’s former partner, ran again this year, traveling all over France. But this time, Socialist voters rejected her thoroughly, even cruelly, giving her less than 7 percent of the vote. Despite her split with Mr. Hollande, she endorsed him this year.