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French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has lashed out at the “brutality” of her hard-Right rival Eric Zemmour as part of what has been called a “kitten campaign” to soften her image and appeal to a broader electorate. 

The 53-year-old National Rally (RN) candidate’s broadside against the former TV polemicist came as polls suggest she is pulling ahead of Mr Zemmour three months before presidential elections, and is best-placed to reach a runoff against Emmanuel Macron.

Ms Le Pen said of her staunchly anti-Islam and immigrant rival: “He brings nothing more except maybe brutality.

“You have to be firm, clear, warn of what you are going to do, but you don’t need to add brutality to it. We don’t need to attack people.”

Despite being convicted of hate speech last week, Mr Zemmour is sticking to inflammatory rhetoric, on Wednesday insisting that almost all delinquents in France were “immigrants or children of immigrants”.

Hard-Right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour gives New Year's greetings to journalists in Paris Eric Zemmour is too ‘brutal’ to lead France claims Marine Le Pen Credit: AFP

Ms Le Pen, on the other hand, has toned down hers, telling journalists at a New Year’s press conference on Wednesday that she had “definitively broken with provocations” that were previously “the sins of our political family” – referring to her firebrand, anti-Semitic father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

“Such temptations were and still are I think not a demonstration of strength or dynamism but of a certain political immaturity,” she said, in a clear nod to Mr Zemmour.

“There will be no car chase to radicalness or buzz,” she promised.

Calling her tactic “the kitten campaign”, Le Parisien said that she had dropped top-down meetings to take selfies in local trips, toned down her hair dye to appear less severe and waxed lyrical about her love of cats to woo a wider electorate.

In terms of policies, she has shelved all calls to leave the European Union or the euro but is sticking to other party fundamentals, such as “national preference” when it comes to jobs and welfare.

A Kantar Public poll for Le Monde and France Info last week found that while 50 per cent of French still saw her as a “danger to democracy”, that figured jumped to 62 per cent for Mr Zemmour.


Le Figaro’s François-Xavier Bourmaud said that Mr Zemmour’s incendiary discourse was helping her achieve her goal of “de-demonising” her image.

“(She) is in the process of externalising radicalness; everything that acted as a foil to Marine Le Pen is being outsourced to Eric Zemmour and she now comes across as a totally ‘normal’ candidate.

“For that reason, if she does reach the second round, Emmanuel Macron should take care because he won’t b able to win by the same margin in 2017,” he said.

However, not all party members are convinced the tactic will work, suggesting she could lose her anti-elite credentials.

“People are saying: ‘Where hasn’t she given ground?’,” one unnamed RN member told Le Parisien. “She has committed no major mistakes in her stance but remains inaudible,” he claimed.

Another fretted that Mr Zemmour risked mobilising more undecided Right-wing voters in the first round because “he is more trenchant”.

Ms Le Pen, who clearly thinks otherwise, dismissed the defection of two high-profile political allies in recent days, saying she wouldn’t want some members of Mr Zemmour’s entourage on her team, branding them “extremely radical.”

“These are people who reproach me for not joining this war or religions and quasi-civil war that they seem to want for our country,” she told France 3 on Sunday.

The latest Ifop-Fiducial poll placed Ms Le Pen on 18 per cent in the first round behind Mr Macron, on 24.5 per cent. Valérie Pécresse, the conservative candidate for the Republicans Party, lies in third on 16.5 per cent and Mr Zemmour in fourth on 12 per cent.

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