STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
An outsized figure on the world's stage is fighting to keep his job. Nicolas Sarkozy has made headlines pressing for intervention in Libya, travelling abroad with his supermodel second wife Carla Bruni, pressing to free up France's economy and struggling with Europe's debt crisis. Now, with an election approaching, the French president is trailing in opinion polls against his main rival, the socialist Francois Hollande.
Sarkozy's future depends on voters like those who spoke with NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The tiny village of Marcoles, population 650, couldn't be further from the bustle and politicking of Paris. Marcoles lies in the central French region of Auvergne, the rural heartland, known as la France profonde. Auvergne is famous for its agricultural traditions and hearty working people, the Auvergnats. Mayor of Maroles, Christian Montin, says a presidential election is a time for his village to take stock.
MAYOR CHRISTIAN MONTIN: (Through translator) We have some of the same concerns as the rest of the country, like jobs, lower purchasing power and high gas prices. But some of the issues the candidates go on about, like security and terrorism, don't concern us at all.
BEARDSLEY: Beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, people from this region began emigrating to bigger cities to find work. The Auvergnats are famous for running half of Paris's cafes and bistros. Today, Montin says one of Auvergne's biggest challenges is hanging onto its population, especially the young people.
MONTIN: (Through translator) A rural community has a specific way of looking at things. It's a very fragile place. When you have 60 kids in the school and three families leave, it can destabilize the whole system.
BEARDSLEY: Montin says keeping public services like the post office is very important in a tiny village. So is a strong spirit of solidarity. He believes that spirit has eroded under President Nicolas Sarkozy, and France has become more selfish and profit-seeking. Montin says socialist candidate Francois Hollande, with his plans for public investment in jobs and infrastructure, will offer a better future for the village. Still, Marcoles is thriving, compared to other villages. Aside from its post office and school, it has two bakeries and a tiny grocery store.
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BEARDSLEY: And it has the Auberge de la Tour, where a young chef is in the kitchen preparing dinner. Twenty-eight-year-old Renaud Darmanin moved to Marcoles with his wife and two children. He bought and now runs a restaurant and small, five-room inn. Darmanin's cooking is good, and word has gotten out. But he says he owes his success to community support.
RENAUD DARMANIN: (Through translator) At my age, I couldn't have done this without the mayor's help in getting the bank loans to renovate this inn. But I think it's a win-win situation, because on the weekends, the restaurant is full, and when people finish eating, they stroll the streets of Marcoles.
BEARDSLEY: The majority of Marcoles' inhabitants are farmers. The 60-some farms in the area produce beef and milk for the region's famous Cantal cheese.
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BEARDSLEY: Thirty-six-year-old cattleman Sebastian Robert opens his barn to show us his Saler breed cattle.
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BEARDSLEY: Robert is a third-generation breeder, and he's enlarged the herd to 76. In the barn, calves suckle their mothers. One born just this morning lies crumpled in the hay under his mother's protective moos.
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BEARDSLEY: Robert says more of rural France is hard-working and conservative and supported Sarkozy last time around. He says farmers don't have the luxury of a Parisian's 35-hour workweek.
SEBASTIAN ROBERT: (Through translator) That's not for us. We're out here weekends and all, looking for a new dynamic this time around, someone to put France back to work. People can't be paid to do nothing.
BEARDSLEY: While work has always been Sarkozy's mantra, Robert says the president did not deliver what he promised on the economy, and the widespread disappointment could be reflected in Sunday's vote. For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley.
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