Emmanuel Macron's spartan presidential campaign headquarters in western Paris is abuzz with rows of young recruits busy at their laptops.
Just two months ago the offices of En Marche!, the centrist party that has shaken up France's traditional left-right political scene since it was launched last April, were empty.
It now has 200,000 members and opinion polls show that 39-year-old Macron could become France's youngest leader since World War Two by nearly 10 years after the presidential election, expected to be decided in two rounds in April and May. He is also drawing support away from the mainstream parties.
"When you're in here I really feel like we're in a young political start-up. We do things completely differently," said Maelle Charreau, a political science student at En Marche's headquarters in the French capital.
"And then there's the personality of Emmanuel Macron which appeals to all of us here, his youth but also his political courage."
His supporters see him as a breath of fresh air in a political field full of seasoned insiders such as Socialist President Francois Hollande and The Republicains presidential candidate Francois Fillon, a former prime minister.
Fillon said on Wednesday he had been summoned by a judge to be placed under formal investigation following allegations he paid his wife for no apparent work. Fillon has denied the allegations but they have dogged his campaign.
Although admirers see Macron as something different, he graduated from the elite ENA school, a training ground for many French politicians and businessmen, before working in the finance ministry and becoming economy minister for Hollande.
He was also an investment banker at Rothschild, a factor which could make him vulnerable if he up comes directly against far-right anti-establishment candidate Marine Le Pen.
But with En Marche! membership swelling -- the Socialists are down 40,000 at 86,000 since the unpopular Hollande took office, The Republicans have 200,000 and there are 83,000 members of Le Pen's National Front -- Macron has also caught the eye of established politicians from other parties.Reuters and The New York Times are constantly boosting Macron. He is being cast as another Obama and Justin Trudeau -- a youthful greeter beckoning voters to maintain their support for a discredited neoliberalism.
What's Macron's selling point besides his youth? His brand of neoliberlism is not as austere and potentially disruptive as Fillon's:
Macron has promised to cut public spending by about 60 billion euros, a sizeable cut but less than the 100 billion euros promised by Fillon.
As economy minister his deregulation bill facilitated Sunday shopping and opened up coach travel to compete with rail and he has made clear he wants more reforms.
But as well as drawing in supporters from both parties, his more moderate approach, to be spelled out on Thursday when he unveils his full manifesto, has won plenty of backing from economists.
"Investors think Fillon's program amounts to shock therapy, but because of France's reluctance to reform, it wouldn't work," Christopher Dembik, head of macro analysis at Denmark's Saxo Bank. "The people would take to the streets."Macron and his new party En Marche! bear watching. The Gray Lady's Thomas Friedman for years has called for a centrist party made up of moderate Republicans and pro-business Democrats. I always thought that such a party was a fantasy of highly paid jet-setting columnists. We'll soon see in France. According to Rose's article there are more members of Macron's infant En Marche! than the Socialists and National Front combined.
Smells fishy, doesn't it?
If Macron does make it to the second round it would be a Trump-like upset becauase his current high poll numbers are actually very soft. As Rose notes:
A Feb. 23 survey by Harris interactive, while confirming his status as favorite, showed fewer than half of Macron's supporters are sure about their choice, compared with more than seven out of 10 among his rivals' backers.Nonetheless if Macron pulls off an upset expect similar experiments in Britain and the U.S. Labour and the Democrats are in a situation not unlike the Socialists. In the case of Labour, leadership is actually in the hands of the progressive wing, but the civil war between New Labour and the Corbynites is incessant and might not be possible to resolve. With the Democrats, leadership is maintained by the Obama-Clinton neoliberal wing, but its mass base of support is with the Bernistas. The Democrats as presently constituted will continue to go the way of the Socialists under Hollande.