France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen could face a challenge from an even more extreme fringe as a controversial TV pundit considers a bid for the presidency.
Eric Zemmour, who is known for his diatribes on Islam and immigration, is beginning a book tour to “meet the French people” as speculation builds that he will run in the 2022 election.
A poll released this week showed him on 8 per cent of the vote – too little to reach the final round but potentially enough to damage Ms Le Pen's hopes.
In a race with no Mr Zemmour, the survey suggests that Ms Le Pen would ease into a run-off of the top two candidates, with 23 per cent of the vote.
But with Mr Zemmour in the running, Ms Le Pen’s share would drop to 18 or 19 per cent – leaving her in danger of dropping to third.
President Emmanuel Macron was favoured to lead the first round in either scenario. He would be expected to beat Ms Le Pen in a run-off, as he did in 2017.
“Marine Le Pen would be the person most affected by an Eric Zemmour candidacy,” analysts at polling company Elabe said.
Mr Zemmour, who is often compared to conservative Fox News hosts in the US, was fined for an outburst in which he described unaccompanied child migrants as thieves, killers and rapists.
“They should be sent home, they shouldn't even come here in the first place,” he said.
A regular voice on the CNews cable network, Mr Zemmour has described Muslim immigrants as “colonisers” and talked openly about a battle between Christian and Muslim influences in France.
His 2014 book The French Suicide, which railed against mass migration by Muslims, was among the best-selling works of that year.
Tuesday’s poll suggests his voter base would include older people and those in the south-east of France, a traditional stronghold of the far right. By contrast, he would take only 4 per cent of the vote among under-35s.
Mr Zemmour has yet to confirm that he will run but a media regulator ruled last week that he should be considered a politician, not a journalist, meaning he is covered by limits on TV and radio appearances.
He criticised this decision. “I’m sad,” he said. “I think the [regulator] did it on purpose, did it voluntarily.”
Mr Zemmour’s comments about young migrants were described by Ms Le Pen as “obviously excessive” but she said he had the right to express views that “shock and harm people”.
Ms Le Pen, who launched her own campaign on Sunday, has led the National Rally party since 2011 after succeeding her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was convicted frequently for racist and anti-Semitic comments.
Although Ms Le Pen has sought to soften her party’s image, critics say her message still vilifies Muslim communities. At her campaign launch, she promised to be tough on “parts of France that have been Talibanised”.
Her party fell short in its bid for a historic breakthrough at elections in June, when it failed to win a regional presidency for the first time.
Mr Macron’s centrist party also put in a disappointing performance, four years after he surged to power by outmanoeuvring France’s traditional left and right.
Although he has not confirmed he will join the race, Mr Macron is widely expected to seek a second term. The election is in April.
The latest poll suggested that Mr Macron’s crucial supporters included young voters and those in the Paris region.
Potential candidates for the centre-right Republicans include regional premier Xavier Bertrand and former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. On the left, Paris’s Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo entered the race on Sunday.