PARIS â€” First-time voters, disappointed National Rally supporters, and former conservatives were among the tens of thousands who gathered in Paris on Sunday to show their support for Eric Zemmour.
With polls suggesting a second-round face-off between far-right leader Marine Le Pen and incumbent Emmanuel Macron in Aprilâ€™s presidential election, Zemmour tried to re-energize his voters at a mega rally in Paris.
â€œWe are the most determined in France. We are the strongest on the internet. We are the most committed in political rallies. Now that we are rising, who can stop us?â€ he asked the cheering crowd at a slickly produced gathering with big screens, music and emotional testimonies.
â€œWe have done in three months what other politicians have been unable to do in 15 years. We have 14 days left to do what nobody else has managed to do,â€ he told supporters who chanted back â€œitâ€™s us, itâ€™s us, itâ€™s us.â€
Zemmour, who is campaigning on promises of a hardline approach to immigration, Islam and security, made the case that voting for him was â€œcrucialâ€ to save France, as opposed to a wasted vote for Le Pen.
POLITICOâ€™s Poll of Polls says Macron is expected to get 28 percent of the vote, compared to 19 percent for Le Pen, 14 percent for the far-leftâ€™s Jean-Luc MÃ©lenchon and 11 percent for Zemmour. Macron is also expected to win a run-off vote against Le Pen.
Not like the others
Some of those in the audience traveled from afar to show their support for Zemmour, the former journalist who only emerged as a presidential candidate late last year.
Michelle, a pensioner from Normandy and former Le Pen supporter, said Zemmour had given her a fresh enthusiasm for politics and she had made the trip to Paris to help him win the â€œwar of imagesâ€ against his opponents.
â€œHe stands out compared to all the others,â€ she said. â€œHe loves France, something the others forgot long ago. He is proud of France and wants to defend its honor.â€
â€œZemmour comes from nowhere, heâ€™s not a politician, heâ€™s fighting to stop France from disappearing. All the others promise stuff just to get elected.â€
The gathering, held at the TrocadÃ©ro square in front of the Eiffel Tower, also brought in a lot of young first-time voters, attracted by what they called Zemmourâ€™s authenticity.
â€œHe is a real patriot and has some good ideas to save France,â€ said Baptiste Vilmin, a metalworker from Champagne. â€œAnd he is not a professional politician, his attitude is different.â€
Vilmin, who had come to the rally with a friend, also believed Zemmour would defy polling predictions in the last weeks of campaigning. â€œI think people are going to wake up, he can get through to them, thereâ€™s an energy around him,â€ he said.
Many in the audience shared a suspicion of polling agencies, mainstream media and career politicians, saying they were trying to destroy France.
Such mistrust was echoed by Zemmour during his one-hour speech as he lambasted the politicians and news organizations that disseminated â€œdisinformationâ€ on his chances of getting elected.
â€œ[Looking back] people will say that â€¦ Politicians did everything to make us believe that the election was a done deal, but we refused to submit and took our destiny in our hands.â€
Macron in particular was a target of discontent. When Zemmour rattled off a list of terrorist attacks in recent years to illustrate insecurity and the need for a more radical approach to crime, there were chants of â€œMacron assassin! Macron assassin!â€ in the audience.
With his particular brand of populism, Zemmour is hoping to attract disappointed voters from both the conservative Les RÃ©publicains and the far-right National Rally. The TrocadÃ©ro square is a symbolic place for conservatives, an area where former conservative candidates have held rallies in the past.
But while allies of Zemmour still hope abstention might increase their championâ€™s chances, many are already planning for defeat.
â€œWe are not speaking of winning 10 percent of the votes now, we are talking about 2-3 points here, 2 points there,â€ said an ally who had left the National Rally to join Zemmour.
â€œIf Zemmour loses the election, our project [for gathering the conservatives and the far-right] is not over, it will just take longer,â€ the ally said.
Meanwhile, a whirlwind tour of the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe proved to be more complicated than expected for Zemmourâ€™s rival Le Pen. On Saturday the candidate for the National Rally was heckled by leftwing protesters during an interview at her hotel.