“What is the liberty of the employee who is fired for not working on Sunday?” he asked the crowd, delivering repeated thrusts at capitalism. “What is the liberty of 120,000 families whose water is cut off because they can’t pay the bill?” His advisers depict him as a kind of French Bernie Sanders. Unlike Mr. Sanders, though, he has no vigorous party establishment to block his way.
“Masters of the earth, you have good reason to be uneasy!” Mr. Mélenchon yelled at the festive, youthful crowd on Sunday, some wearing revolutionary Phrygian caps, as he stabbed the air with his fist and paced back and forth on the stage. “Give it up! Give it up!” the crowd yelled, a message clearly intended for Mr. Mélenchon’s opponents.
“There must be decent salaries,” Mr. Mélenchon shouted into the microphone. “That’s why the minimum wage will have to go up!”
If this veteran of French politics — he started as a young Socialist senator in 1986 — pulls it off, France’s election could end up a contest between two radical outliers. Both Mr. Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front gleefully promise a top-to-bottom shake-up, rejecting the country’s European Union membership, blasting its budgetary and deficit rules, and injecting France with huge doses of public spending.
The prospect of a Mélenchon-Le Pen runoff, written off several weeks ago, no longer seems impossible. In a poll published in Le Monde on Friday, Mr. Mélenchon had pulled to within two points of both Ms. Le Pen and her nearest challenger, the centrist Emmanuel Macron, a former economy minister.
Mr. Mélenchon’s advisers speak admiringly of Mr. Sanders. Their candidate’s score among 18- to 24-year-olds has shot to 44 percent from 12 percent in one month, according to Le Monde. Among 25- to 34-year-olds it has almost doubled, to 27 percent. Analysts say Mr. Mélenchon has the momentum at a time when others, like…