National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen should be quite pleased. Although an upset similar to 2002 is discounted by most, two of his major issues, national identity and immigration, have taken a prime place in the current election campaign, and the threat he poses has forced UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy to flirt with the far-right.
Yet despite this, Le Pen has taken the fight right to Sarkozy himself. Just one day after Nicolas Sarkozy cancelled a visit to a poor neighborhood because of anti-Sarkozy protests, Le Pen campaigned in the multiracial suburb of Argenteuil, the exact place where Sarkozy decried minority rioters as "scum" in 2005. And if there was any doubt why Le Pen was making this visit today, his remarks made it blatantly clear.
"We want to help you get out of these suburban ghettos where French politicians have parked you...only to call you scum later. Thank you for allowing me to speak here, where even our former interior minister dared not come. I want to prove that there are no 'no-go' areas as far as we are concerned."
Not all reactions were rosy. Several locals hurled insults at the visiting candidate, and a Socialist Party statement didn't even exhibit a pretense of courtesy.
"Jean-Marie Le Pen, millionaire and xenophobe, is as much the defender of the French in the suburbs as a wolf in a sheepfold."
Le Pen is clearly trying to be provocative in the last weeks of the campaign, confident that his 13% in the polls is likely an underestimation of his final tally. Although Sarkozy is still leading by far, a strong showing by Le Pen and Francois Bayrou could bring his numbers down, and then there would be no telling who would advance to the second round.