Reportage. The once and future king of the Democratic Party held a political rally in a frigid Tuscany, his home, that isn’t even a done deal in Sunday’s election.

Renzi pleads for ‘useful vote’ against Lega Nord

There was snow on the rails in Florence, with the regional rail system crawling to a halt, overflowing streams, and insane traffic with a 11-kilometer traffic jam on the motorway, overwhelming the city’s already precarious traffic network. The conditions on this last day of campaigning, drenched by a cold, incessant rain, have convinced even Matteo Renzi to cancel the planned program.

The secretary of the Democratic Party and its candidate for the Senate had thought, as usual, to put on a grand show, with a rally in the Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking the city. But, in the end, the order came down to cancel the outdoors event: the large pots of ribollita and lampredotto and the bowls of mulled wine were brought to the Obihall, the old tent theater with a capacity of about 1,500 people, for an event that the PD had put a lot of effort into organizing as well as possible: buses had been hired to bring candidates and supporters over from Empoli, Prato, Pistoia and Pisa.

The inclement weather these days—cold wind, snow, freezing rain—mirrors the mood within the Democratic Party, which is finding out that it is not unbeatable even in Tuscany. The center-left coalition is in danger in at least three districts (Lucca, Massa and Grosseto), and is not sure of victories even in Pistoia and Arezzo. “This was a campaign that focused on empty bellies,” goes the thinking among PD members, “and whoever is in government will not come out well from such a race.”

Maybe this is why the PD secretary is, for once, declining the mantle of protagonist in the electoral fight. In the morning, on the ANSA news agency’s live forum, Renzi confirmed that it was not his personal goal to occupy the Palazzo Chigi again.

“We have a simple position: there is no such thing as a candidate for prime minister under our current laws, and we respect the institutional duty of the president of the republic,” he said. “We will support whoever ends up being the Democratic Party candidate for the job, beginning with Paolo Gentiloni and going through all the names that have been touted, and there are many of them, almost the size of a full soccer team. Anyone from the Democratic Party will get the support of the Democratic Party.”

In the evening, on TG3, in near-anticipation of the PD’s final rally, Matteo Renzi rattled off the latest figures from the national statistics office. He has begun treating them as something of a security blanket: “I was sworn in as prime minister in February 2014. Since then, the GDP has grown by 4 percent, consumption has increased by 5.4 percent thanks to the extra €80 and the bonuses, exports have grown by 17 percent, and investment in industrial machinery and transport has grown by 24 percent. This is official data. No one can deny it.”

He repeated these same words at the Obihall, not talking from the stage, which was occupied by a giant screen, but from a raised platform near the center of the hall, in the midst of “his” people who were cheering for him. The set design was reduced to a minimum, with just three flags—of the Democratic Party, of Europe and of Italy—and his fans erupted into cheers when the candidate for Senator hit on the theme of casting a “useful vote,” which of course is a part of the electoral pitch of the PD secretary.

It goes without saying that Renzi pointed to the boogeyman of the Right, but he explicitly referred only to the Lega Nord, a detail of no small importance: “I hope that a voter of the Left, and especially the radical Left, will be able to think carefully about what is going to happen, since on Sunday, in this fight between reformists and extremists, there is the risk that voting for the radical Left locally might bring Matteo Salvini closer to the post of Prime Minister, or Minister of Internal Affairs.”

Finally—and this was perhaps the moment when Renzi felt the most comfortable—came his appeal to the militants, and to his erstwhile sympathizers who had fallen away. His words were very carefully chosen:

“To raise one’s tone, to scream, to scare people—that could bring a few more points at the polls, but it does not build the future. We think that Italy has qualities, skills, human capital, beauty. You have to make it work better. This is a job that we have started on, and the results are there for all to see. But there is huge room for growth. We want to double the jobs we’ve created, we want to be the leaders in environmental and energy sustainability, we want to have more children by putting families in a condition of security. On Monday, no one will be talking about the flat tax or about the citizenship income anymore. But our concrete proposals regarding corporate taxes, the VAT regime, early retirement, broadband Internet, will end up like the €80: a heritage for everyone.”

In the end, Renzi’s message goes back to the same themes as always. Will it work once more?


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