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France's Far-Right Candidate Leads Presidency Poll

French presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen (R), president of the extreme right political party, leads the first round of public polls with 23 percent of the vote in Lille, northern France, March 5, 2011

French politics have been thrown into disarray this week by a pair of polls showing far-right leader Marine Le Pen would carry the first round of presidential elections, which are scheduled next year.

A poll published Tuesday shows France's far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen would beat out all favored candidates for the French presidency – including incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy – if elections were held today.

The Harris Interactive survey shows 24 percent of French voters would pick Le Pen in the first round of voting. Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the current head of the International Monetary Fund, would come second, with 23 percent. President Sarkozy would place third, with 20 percent. The results come just two days after another poll also put Le Pen in the top first-round spot.

In a television interview Monday night, Le Pen, 42, said she was not paying attention to the polls.

But she said the polls reflect a dynamism generated around the National Front and her presidential candidacy, which she said she also saw speaking to French voters.

Other politicians and pundits – along with ordinary French – have paid close attention to the polls, which come a year ahead of presidential elections. Some suggest the polling methods are inaccurate. Others argue blond-haired Le Pen is benefitting from a blizzard of media attention since she took over the National Front's presidency from her 82-year-old father this year.

But politicians like Jean-Francois Cope, spokesman for Sarkozy's UMP party, acknowledge the National Front resonates with many ordinary French.

Cope told France Info radio that the National Front has been able to respond to French fears about the economy and geopolitical crises – and about the future.

The younger Le Pen presents a softer, younger face to the National Front's tough, anti-crime, anti-Europe and anti-immigration platform. But many in France remember when her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, placed second in the first-round of the country's presidential elections in 2002.

The results shocked the nation – and the world. Former French president Jacques Chirac won the second round handily, in a vote widely seen as a referendum against extremism.