PARIS (AP) — Thrice married, Nicolas Sarkozy knows about love that flames up and later fades away. Now, he faces the battle of his career to avoid a humiliating political divorce from the French people — who were once infatuated with him.
On Sunday, French voters handed the conservative president a warning: He narrowly lost to Francois Hollande in the first round of France’s presidential election.
That sets up a far tougher challenge for Sarkozy: Overcoming across-the-board poll predictions that he will lose to Hollande in their runoff May 6.
Like him or loathe him, Sarkozy has the character of someone who faces up to challenges.
An impulsive, high-energy political brawler, Sarkozy is no stranger to tough times both politically and personally. Until recently, he seemed to relish a chance to be France’s political comeback kid.
But Friday, in a radio interview, Sarkozy seemed to sense unfavorable political winds, and acknowledged the biggest “mistake” of his five-year term was underestimating the solemnity that the French seek in their presidents.
In many ways, France in 2007 took a gamble on Sarkozy — who himself loves risk-taking — because he doesn’t fit the traditional mold of politicians in France. And not just for his foreign-sounding surname of Hungarian origin.
Sarkozy, 57, didn’t have the typical educational or family pedigree of French political elites. He made up for it with passion, intensity and ambition.
His biographers have suggested that Sarkozy, the middle of three brothers in a family with origins in Hungary, had something to prove: To his father, who divorced his mother when Nicolas was young and drew the son’s scorn; to the upper-middle class clique of his youth, which at times rejected him because of his uncomfortable family situation and outsider image; and to show France that an outsider could make it.
After 12 years under fellow conservative President Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy had a case to make in his campaign to mark a “rupture” with the past. Sarkozy doesn’t mince words and exuded a dynamism that many French craved for 21st-century challenges.
Such attributes, in the end, may have proved too much for the French. Countless voters have told pollsters that Sarkozy’s personality and style turned them off.
After Sarkozy took office, he stocked his weekly schedule so full that he gained the nickname of the “omni-president.”
Sarkozy’s first year in power appeared to hurt his image the most, and he never fully recovered.
He and his entourage celebrated his victory at the too-chic restaurant Fouquet’s on the Champs-Elysees. He trotted up the steps of the presidential palace in jogging shorts after a run; He toyed with his mobile phone during a papal audience at the Vatican with TV cameras rolling; he divorced his wife, began dating former supermodel Carla Bruni in a fast, high-profile courtship, and married her months later. In 2008, he crudely insulted a man at a Paris agricultural fair.
Later in Sarkozy’s tenure, a string of scandals touched on his entourage and political allies, suggesting his campaign-trial promises of an “exemplary” republic were hollow.
Sarkozy has been politically minded since he was a teen — favoring French pride and independence touted by Gen. Charles de Gaulle.
After earning degrees in political science and law in the early 1980s, Sarkozy was elected France’s then-youngest mayor, in the ultra-rich Paris suburb of Neuilly. Nationally, he made his name as a hero negotiator of a hostage crisis at a Neuilly nursery school.
His political career soared in his role as hard-nosed interior minister in the 2000s, overseeing a drop in crime and new anti-terrorism legislation.
Sarkozy, the first French president to divorce and remarry in office, is the father of three sons and, as of last year, a daughter with Bruni-Sarkozy.
Politically, Sarkozy traditionally favors free markets, but has been unafraid to defend French business.
He long took pride in his moniker as “Sarko l’Americain” — and has rebuilt ties both with the U.S. and Israel. He led France into a leadership role in a NATO-backed revolution in Libya that toppled Moammar Gadhafi, and has taken a tough line on nuclear-minded Iran. Along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he helped craft a hard-won European fiscal treaty meant to stem the continent’s debt crisis.
As president, Sarkozy said on RTL Radio that he has learned his lessons and will change on matters of style — if not substance.
“Perhaps the mistake I made at the start of my term was not understanding the symbolic dimension of the president’s role, and not being solemn enough in my action,” he said.
“I remained, at my core, a minister: So when the fishermen got angry, I would go. When layoffs got announced, I’d go. When a dramatic event would happen, I’d go,” he said in response to a listener’s question.
“I won’t make that mistake again.”
If he loses on May 6, Sarkozy says he’ll call it quits from politics.
“If the French people were not to entrust me with their confidence, do you really think I should continue my political career?” he mused recently on RMC radio. “The answer is no.”
Cecile Brisson contributed to this report.
More Related Stories
- Illinois' fracking and coal rush is a national crisis
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- DHS admits "impossible" to control 3D-printed guns
- Journalists file suit against Manning trial secrecy
- Russia: Syrian regime ready to talk peace
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11