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Despite Drop In French Election Polls, Supporters Stand Behind Marine Le Pen


Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is running 15-20 points behind her centrist rival. The runoff is on Sunday. Even so, Le Pen has been running an effective campaign, and she says she can beat Emmanuel Macron. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley says that result can't be ruled out. It's been an unpredictable election year that has seen every establishment candidate eliminated.



ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Le Pen has been drawing huge crowds. Her supporters hang on every word, chanting and booing as if on cue. Le Pen says she's fighting for the people against Macron's cold world of profits and finance.

MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).


BEARDSLEY: "He is about globalization and the oligarchy. He's a pure immigrationist, selfish individualist and European unionist. He's exactly the opposite of what we stand for."

JEAN MARC ILLOUZ: I do think that Marine Le Pen can win because she's such a great speaker, because she is so able to use passion.

BEARDSLEY: That's Jean Marc Illouz, a former political correspondent with France 2 Television. He says the election is Macron's to lose. And when it comes to political rhetoric, the political newcomer doesn't hold a candle to the biting, experienced Le Pen.

ILLOUZ: He is dwarfed by her demagogical approach to solving problems with a magic wand. People are mad at unemployment. People are afraid of terrorism. And Marine Le Pen says look, Marine Le Pen will do it all. I'm Superwoman.



BEARDSLEY: Macron supporters admit their candidate had a slow start in the second round but say he's now hitting his stride. Addressing a huge rally on May 1, Macron called Marine Le Pen the anti-France.

EMMANUEL MACRON: (Through interpreter) Both our enemies and Madame Le Pen want the same thing. They want to see this country divided, and they want civil war. And they are feeding off each other. I will never let this country be divided over race or religion.

BEARDSLEY: In 2002, when Le Pen's father made the runoff, every other political party came together to block the far-right. Jean-Marie Le Pen was soundly defeated. But this time, there are cracks in the anti-National Front unity. As many as a third of far-left voters say they don't like Le Pen but can't bring themselves to vote for Macron either. Even so, says political commentator Thierry Arnaud, a Le Pen victory is still a very unlikely scenario.

THIERRY ARNAUD: But it is not an impossible one. For that to happen, you would have to have a very low turnout, a massive abstention by French standards. And let me remind you that about 80 percent of the French electorate usually goes to the polls for a presidential election.

BEARDSLEY: But this presidential vote falls in the middle of a three-day holiday weekend. While fervent far-right voters are sure to go to the polls, Macron supporters are worried turnout for their side might be lower. Meanwhile, Le Pen is trying to appeal to more mainstream voters by backing off of some of her more extreme positions and toning down her anti-EU talk. Two polls out today show the gap between Macron and Le Pen closing slightly. Political science professor Pascal Perrineau says she could win, but all of her stars have to align.

PASCAL PERRINEAU: (Through interpreter) She would need a terrorist attack, a huge abstention rate from the left that refuses to vote for a banker, and on top of that, a massive protest vote, people who say, enough, we're voting anti-system come what may.


MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Today in a radio interview, Macron said he planned to win the election by talking to people's intelligence not playing on their fears. He has four days to do so.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEIRUT SONG, "AS NEEDED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.