The dye was cast the moment Sunday’s presidential first round results were declared with President Nicolas Sarkozy set the challenge of having to woo far-right voters to give him a chance at a second term.
Within hours he was promising to get tough on immigration and security and vowing to keep industrial jobs in France.
Sarkozy may be trailing his Socialist adversary but he is refusing to be written off ahead of the May 6 run-off.
One in five voters on Sunday backed National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Although normally more likely to lean to the centre-right, Le Pen is keeping her distance from Sarkozy hoping to cause a route of his UMP party in June’s parliamentary elections.
And what of the first round winner? Francois Hollande is still the pollsters’ favourite. He has refused to court the National Front. Instead political pundits see Hollande easily picking up votes from the far-left.
But his problem may be his lack on ministerial experience prompting undecided voters to opt for the status quo in these precarious economic times.