These Are the Five Main Contenders to Be the Next French President

They’ll be aiming to make their mark in the first televised debate.

Macron Leads the Pack Following First French Debate

In five weeks, French voters will make a preliminary choice in the most open presidential race of the Fifth Republic. A televised debate, the first of the campaign, is scheduled during prime time on Monday to allow the five main contenders to mark themselves out. They aim to make it through as one of two finalists for the May 7 runoff.

Here are the main candidates, their party associations and their latest polling scores:

Marine Le Pen

Far-right, Front National
26.5% of first-round voting intentions, according to Ifop poll of March 17

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

The 49-year-old National Front candidate took over in 2011 the party founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. After taking 18 percent of the vote in the 2007 presidential election, she’s built the party into France’s largest by downplaying the overt racism of her father and focusing more on an anti-globalist, anti-European Union message that appeals to working class voters. While polls show she’ll get the most votes in the first round, they also suggest she’d lose the run-off because most French still regard her as a risk to democracy.

Emmanuel Macron

Independent, En Marche!
26% of first-round voting intentions, according to Ifop poll of March 17

Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

The 39-year-old one-time banker and former economic adviser to Socialist President Francois Hollande was seen as a long shot when he announced in November that he was running for president. Until then, he was best known as the architect of laws allowing more Sunday shopping and intercity buses. But missteps by his rivals and a public appetite for a fresh face from outside France’s fractured politics have propelled him to the status of frontrunner. His main challenge is that much of his support is driven by dissatisfaction with his rivals, making him vulnerable if any of them shine in the debate. And as the frontrunner, they’ll all be out to get him.

Francois Fillon

Conservative, Les Republicains
18% of first-round voting intentions in Ifop

Photographer: Christophe Morin /Bloomberg

The 63-year-old former prime minister was the odds-on favorite to be France’s next president after he won the Republicans primary last November, even if his call for a Thatcherite cure for the French economy raised doubts about his appeal to centrists. But his campaign went into near free-fall after he was put under investigation and later charged for embezzlement for hiring family members as parliamentary aides for potential no-show jobs. Fillon withstood heavy pressure from party members to quit, and the episode left him lagging badly in the polls. Fillon won the primary partly on the strength of his debating and he’ll need another stellar performance Monday.

Benoit Hamon

Left, Parti Socialiste
13.5% of first-round voting intentions in Ifop

Photographer: Patrick Kovarik/AFP via Getty Images

The former education minister spent most of the Socialist primary lagging in third place before a late surge took him past several party elders. Little has gone to plan for the 49-year-old since. First, he failed to convince far-left rival Jean-Luc Melenchon to join a unified ticket, leaving France’s leftists badly fragmented. Then he’s seen a steady stream of Socialists either withhold their endorsements or openly back Macron, worried that Hamon is too leftist to garner broad appeal. His signature issue is introducing a universal basic income, which even in France has a hard time gaining acceptance. He has never risen above fourth place in any poll.

Jean-Luc Melenchon

Far-left, La France Insoumise
10.5% of first-round voting intentions in Ifop

Photographer: Eric Feferberg/AFP via Getty Images

At 65 the oldest of the candidates, Melenchon is on his second run for president and has a loyal backing attracted by his uncompromising positions against globalization and Western militarism. Melenchon was a member of the Socialist Party and even a government minister before quitting the party over what he saw as its pro-business policies. Nothing riles him more than being told he shares many positions with Le Pen. While they both reject the EU and free trade, and favor closer ties with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, they differ greatly on issues of immigration and policing. Melenchon is a distant fifth in the polls but has refused any electoral accord with Hamon.

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