"I'm like Zorro," Le Pen said in an interview at National Front headquarters this week. "You rarely see him, but you know he's there."
Unlike Zorro, Le Pen is 78 years old and a little hard of hearing. This will be his sixth presidential run, though he still has to gather the 500 signatures from elected officials needed for a place on the ballot.
But his fiercely nationalistic message, peppered with anti-immigration slogans and references to sleaze in the governing elite, still resonates with a French electorate that is fearful of globalization and ever more disillusioned with the country's leadership class.
Today, all the reasons that led to a second round with Le Pen in 2002 are still there," François Chérèque, head of the CFDT, France's biggest labor union, warned at a labor congress this month. Alain Gest, a center-right lawmaker, said that people in his constituency in northern France were no longer embarrassed to admit voting for Le Pen. Maxime Gremetz, a Communist lawmaker, complained that Le Pen "does not even have to make any noise to reap votes."
At the Villages des Fêtes, a bar in a working-class neighborhood in northeastern Paris, patrons readily admit they like Le Pen.
"We've tried the left, we've tried the right - it's all the same," said a taxi driver, who identified himself only as Sylvain. He used to vote center-right, he said, but switched in 2002. "I will vote for Le Pen again next year because he talks about issues others don't dare to talk about."
Frankly many French voters are unhappy, for both major candidates are promoting themselves as agents of change and reform. The difference is that those unhappy on the left are rallying around Ms. Royal, while those on the right have a choice between him and Sarkozy. And although Sarkozy does not fit the standard French political mold by any means, he has still been part of the ruling establishment.
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