Sarkozy, rivals jockey for presidential race

France's Socialists jockeyed for position Tuesday and President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly urged his fellow conservatives to contain their enthusiasm after U.S. sexual assault charges sidelined the leading likely contender in next year's presidential race.

In addition, the prospect of a baby in France's presidential palace — Sarkozy's father spilled the news in an interview Tuesday — also presented a possible boon to the unpopular incumbent ahead of France's presidential election next April.

Although leading French politicians are loath to say so out loud, Sarkozy may gain political leverage from the jailing of IMF chief and prominent Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, known in France as DSK.

Strauss-Kahn, who has been charged with trying to rape a hotel maid in New York, was jailed without bail after a publicly broadcast arraignment Monday that shocked many in France. It's illegal to broadcast images of suspects in handcuffs here out of respect for the presumption of innocence.

"K.O." screamed banner headlines Tuesday in France's Le Parisien and Liberation papers, with full-page photos of an unshaven Strauss-Kahn in the New York courtroom.

Socialist leader Martine Aubry urged party members to wait to hear Strauss-Kahn's side of the story before passing judgment on him or the maid.

"More than ever, we should be united and combative" she said on France-Info radio. The important thing, she said, is that "one of us wins 2012."

At a meeting of the Socialist leadership Tuesday, she pledged to stay the party's course in its bid to unseat Sarkozy.

Her party has long been fraught with division and ego battles, and is now struggling to come to grips with the grave allegations against Strauss-Kahn. While he has a reputation for sexual adventures, questions have surfaced over whether party members knew of past cases of assault and kept them quiet.

Aubry, seen as a conventional party stalwart with little political charisma, may seek the Socialist endorsement in primaries later this year. Some French commentators have dubbed her the "anti-DSK" and compared her sober image to that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, suggesting that may help her chances after the shock of the allegations against Strauss-Kahn.

However, pollsters say Strauss-Kahn's arrest may instead heighten the political fortunes of Aubry's predecessor as Socialist leader, Francois Hollande.

Hollande was the longtime partner of Segolene Royal, who challenged Sarkozy for the presidency in 2007. The two had four children together, and split up after the last campaign.

Sarkozy met privately with the leaders of his conservative UMP party Tuesday and urged them to stay discreet about Strauss-Kahn's case, according to the websites of Le Figaro and Le Monde newspapers.

"In the current context, we should show sang-froid, courage, unity and I would add dignity. We should be a rock of solidity to lead the country," Sarkozy was quoted as saying.

Sarkozy, whose poll ratings have been in the doldrums for months, may also be hoping that slight improvements in France's economic growth and employment boost his popularity.

Some French voters were paying more attention to the belly of their first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

The president's father, Pal Sarkozy, told Germany's top-selling newspaper Bild that the first family is expecting a baby. The president's office isn't commenting about reports circulating for weeks that the 43-year-old Bruni-Sarkozy is pregnant with the couple's first child together.

A baby in the Elysee presidential palace could help voters better relate to a man they have seen as increasingly out of touch with their worries.

The Italian-born Bruni-Sarkozy had a successful career as a model before becoming a singer-songwriter, known for her soulful lyrics and wispy voice. She's also known for her topsy-turvy romantic life, which included earlier relationships with the likes of rockers Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton.

She and Sarkozy, 56, married in early 2008. She has one son from an earlier relationship, and Sarkozy has three sons from his two previous marriages.


Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.