Emmanuel Macron Holds First Rally as French Presidential Race Tightens

French President Emmanuel Macron will hold his first election rally on Saturday as he seeks reelection to his nation's highest office and faces a strong challenge from the far-right.

The presidential race appears to be a close run affair ahead of the first round of voting on April 10, which will be followed by the crucial runoff vote on April 24. The two leading candidates in the first round will face each other to decide the final result of the election.

Recent polls suggest that Macron will qualify for the second round and he's likely to face Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, who was also Macron's runoff opponent in 2017.

The French president will hold his first rally at 1.30p.m. local time (7.30a.m. E.T.) at La Défense Arena stadium in Paris, which usually hosts rugby games and rock concerts.

A poll published on Wednesday by French pollster Elabe showed Macron winning 52.5 percent of the vote in the second round, while Le Pen would win 47.5 percent.

That was a narrower margin of victory for Macron than the Elabe poll found the previous week and Wednesday's poll also had a margin of error of up to +/-3 percent, which could indicate that Le Pen is within striking distance of defeating Macron.

Separate polling from the Ifop-Fiducial group published on Friday showed Macron winning 53.5 percent of the vote in the second round compared to 46.5 percent for Le Pen.

Those figures would represent significant gains for Le Pen, who lost to Macron in 2017 by a margin of more than 20 points.

The polls may also indicate that she has had major success in detoxifying National Rally, which was known as the National Front until 2018, and previously led by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who famously referred to the Holocaust as "a detail of history."

That effort at detoxification may have been assisted by another far-right presidential candidate, Éric Zemmour, who briefly seemed to be a potentially viable challenger to Le Pen on the right.

However, Zemmour's harsh rhetoric, including attacks on immigrants and Muslims, appears to have made Le Pen look like a more respectable candidate by contrast.

President Macron has spent a significant amount of his time dealing with the ongoing invasion of Ukraine and has spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone 17 times in four months, according to analysis from The New York Times, as well as meeting Putin in Moscow.

The rally on Saturday may allow him to focus on his reelection efforts, though it remains to be seen if his activities on Ukraine will affect his campaign.

A victory for Le Pen would be huge upset both in France and throughout Europe. Though she has toned down her rhetoric, Le Pen and her party are longstanding critics of the European Union (EU) and earlier this year, she referred to Macron as then German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "flunky."

Nonetheless, Le Pen no longer formally supports France leaving the EU or the euro common currency. Either eventuality would be a major shock to the bloc in the wake of the U.K.'s vote to leave in 2016.

Le Pen took over National Rally from her father in 2011. Jean-Marie Le Pen was a notorious far-right politician and perennial presidential candidate whose greatest success came in 2002 when he qualified for the second round of voting in that year's presidential election.

However, Le Pen was defeated by then French President Jacques Chirac, who won more than 82 percent of the vote in the runoff. In 2015, Le Pen was expelled from the National Front following a dispute with his daughter.

Emmanuel Macron Before a Working Lunch
French President Emmanuel Macron looks on prior to a working lunch with Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte over Ukraine crisis at the Elysee Presidential Palace on March 9, 2022 in Paris, France. Macron will hold his first reelection rally on Saturday. Chesnot/Getty Images