She vowed Sunday she would be a president who puts France first as she formally launched a campaign echoing many of the themes that propelled Donald Trump to the White House.
The National Front (FN) leader attacked “mass immigration,” globalization and “Islamic fundamentalism” and said she wanted a France “which owes nothing to anyone.”
Polls have shown for months that 48-year-old Le Pen will win enough votes in the first round of the election on April 23 to reach the runoff, but they currently show that she will be defeated in the second round on May 7.
With former investment banker Emmanuel Macron appearing increasingly likely to be her ultimate opponent, Le Pen told the Lyon crowd that “faced with the cash-rich rightwing and the cash-rich leftwing, only I am the candidate of the people.”
It was also a reference to the previous frontrunner in the presidential race, conservative candidate Francois Fillon, who is embroiled in revelations his wife drew hundreds of thousands of euros in salary as his parliamentary assistant but never actually worked.
The claims have left 62-year-old Fillon struggling to remain a candidate.
“We will not expect the French people to get used to living with terrorism,” she said, promising a massive increase in spending on law and order.
Speaking in the city where she once compared the sight of Muslims praying in the street to the Nazi occupation, Le Pen said: “We do not want to live under the tyranny of fundamentalism.”
She vowed a “zero tolerance” approach to crime with the recruitment of 15,000 extra police, focusing particular attention on the troubled suburbs of many French cities.
Foreigners who commit crimes will be drummed out of France, she said.
On Saturday, Le Pen published a list of 144 “commitments” built around putting France first.
But there were empty seats in the hall where she spoke, in contrast to a packed venue in the same city on Saturday where 39-year-old Macron addressed 8,000 supporters with thousands more watching on a giant screen outside.
The FN’s influential deputy leader Florian Philippot insisted that the momentum was with Le Pen and not the fast-rising Macron.
“People are waking up. They see Brexit, they see Trump and they’re saying to themselves: ‘It’s worth going to vote’,” he said before her speech.
One of Le Pen’s advisers conceded however on Saturday that “on paper,” Macron currently had the best chance of winning a head-to-head duel.
A former economy minister under unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande, Macron is also running as a candidate outside the political establishment and has founded his own movement, En Marche (On The Move).
Macron said Le Pen “did not speak in the name of the people” and he took aim at nepotism in the FN, which was founded by her father, former paratrooper Jean-Marie Le Pen.