Marine Le Pen - Reuters - January 2012
France's far right presidential candidate and National Front party president Marine Le Pen waves at the end of a political rally in Metz December 11, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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French far-right leader and presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen is only barely trailing President Nicolas Sarkozy, said a newly-released poll on Tuesday.

According to an Ifop poll, Le Pen would finish third in the first round of the elections, although the gap between her and President Nicolas Sarkozy remains razor thin. The poll shows Socialist leader Francois Hollande leading with 29 percent support and Sarkozy with 23 percent and Le Pen comes in third with 18 percent.

“The difference [between me and Sarkozy] is zero, taking into account the margin of error,” said Le Pen, who is hoping to create as great an upset in this election as her father did in 2002 when he made it to the second round, knocking out the Socialist Party candidate and paving the way for Jacques Chirac's landslide victory weeks later.

Meanwhile, Le Pen was taken to task on television, where she went into a Canal Plus interview on Sunday evening with host Anne-Sophie Lapix riding high, and came out the other end stumbling over her words.

Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade France’s triple-A debt rating Friday came just at the right moment for the far-right leader, who started her campaign by promising to “restore the nation’s economic sovereignty,” as well as to solve France’s debt problem by quitting the euro, printing money, slashing immigration and setting up protectionist barriers.

“The euro will be a paragraph in history and it will collapse in the coming months,” the 43-year-old proclaimed Friday, setting out her plans to raise wages for poorer workers by €200 a month, and paying for it by putting a 3 per cent tax on imports. She promised one thing after the next, including returning the country to the franc, authorize the Bank to print the equivalent of €100bn a year and borrow €45 billion a year from the bank in interest-free loans.

But how exactly did this all add up, TV host Lapix wanted to know, pressing Le Pen again and again on details of her plan, tripping her up on her numbers, and bringing out a hesitant, and then aggressive side of the former lawyer-turned politician that France does not usually get to see.

The problems continued on the popular TV program “Zemmour and Naulleau” on Groupe M6’s Paris Première pay channel, which took aim at the candidate’s father and National Front party founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, asking him about being a Holocaust denier and trotting out, once again, his infamous comments about the gas chambers being a “detail” or a “minor point” of World War II.

Playing back to him the tape of that original 1987 interview—in which he breezily says that despite the fact that he “did not see them” himself and has not “studied the questions specifically,” he is not denying the gas chambers exist, only arguing that they are a “minor point,” of World War II, the hosts then ask the elder Le Pen if he would like to elaborate or apologize.

Le Pen instead blames the CRIF - the umbrella Jewish organization of France, for turning his words around and painting him as an anti-Semite. "Were not the gas chambers a “minor detail” of World War II?" he retorts to the hosts. "If I'm wrong [that the gas chambers were a detail of WWII] then it is that WWII was a detail of the gas chambers,” he adds, playing with his words and meaning and avoiding answering their question.

It is too early to tell whether the father and daughter interviews over the weekend will impact the younger Le Pen’s standing in the polls, but the latest numbers show her popularity rising.