(CN) — All the contenders for the French presidency are now lined up at the start of what has already become a raucous campaign ahead of April elections where President Emmanuel Macron seems destined to face a right-wing challenger in a runoff.
It's now clear who all the main candidates are after France's traditional conservative party, the Republicans, became the last big party to name a candidate on Saturday. They picked their first female presidential candidate, Valerie Pecresse. She is the president of the region that includes Paris and served as a minister under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.
In the past, she's taken mainstream pro-European, pro-business and small-government conservative views and described herself as “one-third [Margaret] Thatcher, two-thirds [Angela] Merkel.”
But her job will be to defeat the far right first and only by doing that will she get a chance to take on Macron. Facing such a hurdle, she's adopted the language of the far right and promised to “restore French pride” and protect “family values.”
“I understand the anger of a people who feel powerless against violence, Islamist separatism and uncontrolled immigration,” she said. “I will not have a wavering hand against the enemies of the republic.”
Besides the longtime far-right politician Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally and Macron's runoff challenger in the 2017 election, Pecresse will need to stave off a new far-right force in Eric Zemmour, an anti-Muslim and anti-European Union firebrand journalist and television pundit who is shaking up the race.
The main left-wing hopefuls have begun their campaigns too. The Socialists chose Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor; the Greens have environmental activist Yannick Jadot leading them; and those on the far left are backing Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of France Unbowed.
But with France's left-wing parties showing little strength and in disarray, Macron, a neoliberal centrist who's tacked to the right over the past two years, is likely to be challenged in a runoff by one of the three figures on the right.
Macron is leading polls ahead of the April 10 election and the main question is about who he'll likely face in an April runoff. Although Macron has not officially declared his candidacy, he is expected to do so in the coming weeks and he is well poised to win a second term, according to polls.
But Zemmour's entry into the race has made the campaign much harder to predict and drawn a lot of comparisons to Donald Trump's disruptive presence in the 2016 U.S. elections.
“He's the candidate of the middle finger to France in terms of the ordinary candidate,” said Andrew Smith, an expert on French politics at the University of Chichester, during a recent discussion on France 24. “In many ways he's kind of a cipher of the very worst of what France could be.”
Smith's reference to the middle finger was for a reason: At the end of November, Zemmour was photographed flipping off a woman who had shown him the middle finger as his entourage drove by during a visit to Marseille. The incident came as Zemmour's sudden rise in the polls stalled.
Last week, after months of speculation and likely sensing trouble from the sliding poll numbers, Zemmour finally declared his candidacy and he held his first rally on Sunday.
The rally delivered scenes similar to those that came out of Trump's run for the White House. On his way through adoring crowds, a man grabbed Zemmour by the head in an apparent effort to put him in a headlock. Zemmour's body guards quickly restrained the man.
Inside the hall, Zemmour announced his political party will be called Reconquest, an apparent inference to the historical period known as the Reconquista when Christian military forces violently expulsed Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula.