Lately, I wake up every morning to listen to interviews with candidates in the Belle Alliance Populaire via podcast. A few impressions:
1. Arnaud Montebourg has stepped up his game. He's always been a smooth talker, but he now seems quite well-prepared to engage on issues at a level of detail he previously avoided. Even when challenged, he responds adroitly, and he does not let interviewers get away with what he considers to be mischaracterizations of his stands. His forensic skills should stand him in good stead in the upcoming debates.
2. Manuel Valls seems totally unprepared for the race. He is of course in a difficult position of his own making, at once a defender of Hollande's record, from which he can hardly dissociate himself, and self-styled policy innovator. But his innovations are far from clear, unless they are self-repudations of the "I will abolish Article 49-3" variety. His customary belligerence remains abundantly on display, but there seems to be nothing of substance behind it. I think he expected to be the automatic front-runner once Hollande stepped aside and is surprised to discover that other candidates are being taken seriously.
3. Vincent Peillon is quick on his feet and has worked up his dossiers, but he put his foot in his mouth the other day by alleging that laïcité had somehow been an alibi for Vichy's anti-Semitism as it is said to be an alibi for anti-Muslim sentiment today. He quickly retracted, but the episode left a bad taste.
4. Benoît Hamon comes off as earnest but not particularly adroit.
I list the contenders in the order in which I expect them (as of now) to finish in the primary, with 3 and 4 more or less ex aequo.
The other candidates are thus far inaudible, at least from my vantage point in the US.