PARIS • France's far-right National Front (FN) is hoping to transform record gains in regional elections into triumph in the second round tomorrow, giving leader Marine Le Pen a springboard for her presidential bid in 2017.
The ultra-nationalist FN, which wants to suspend immigration and pull France out of the euro zone, topped the vote in six of 13 regions in the first round of voting last weekend, confirming its status as France's most popular party. But it faces an uphill battle to convert that win after the ruling Socialist Party withdrew its candidates from two regions and urged its supporters there to back Mr Nicolas Sarkozy's Republicans.
A TNS-Sofres poll showed Ms Le Pen, who heads the party list in the rustbelt north-eastern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, behind the Republicans' Mr Xavier Bertrand by 47 per cent to 53 per cent.
At the other end of the country, in the sun-kissed Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, her 26-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen was trailing the Republicans' Mr Christian Estroi with 46 per cent to his 54 per cent.
Both women had far outrun their conservative rivals in the first round, each winning over 40 per cent of the vote in a packed field.
Mr Jean-Yves Camus, co-author of The Far Right In Europe, said the FN's trump card was its lack of experience. "The FN's biggest advantage is that it is not tainted by the errors of others. They have never had to be accountable, so people are increasingly asking themselves, 'Why not the FN?'" But the party's hopes of winning its first region could be dashed by its opponents' political manoeuvring. The Socialists have sacrificed their candidates in the regions where Ms Le Pen and her niece are running, calling on voters to back the opposition.
A combative Ms Le Pen has slammed such tactics as "undemocratic" and accused her opponents of "intellectual terrorism" in seeking to block her party's path to power. She also vowed, if elected, to "make the government's life a misery, do you hear me? Every day, every week".
Nationwide, the FN took 28 per cent of the vote last week, ahead of 27 per cent for the Republicans and their allies.
President Francois Hollande's Socialists sustained their fourth electoral drubbing since coming to power in 2012 but held up better than expected with 23.5 per cent.
The results confirmed the seemingly inexorable ascent of the FN.
Ms Le Pen has reaped the rewards of her efforts to "de-demonise" the party bequeathed by her former paratrooper father Jean-Marie Le Pen.