- Title: France's Le Pen softens image before election, with a little help from Santa
- Date: 8th December 2016
- Summary: NANTERRE, FRANCE (FILE - OCTOBER 5, 2016) (REUTERS) FORMER LEADER AND FOUNDER OF NATIONAL FRONT AND MARINE LE PEN'S FATHER, JEAN-MARIE LE PEN, ARRIVING IN COURT FOR HEARING ATTEMPTING TO OVERTURN HIS EXCLUSION FROM PARTY PARIS, FRANCE (FILE - MAY 1, 2015) (REUTERS) MARINE LE PEN AND JEAN-MARIE LE PEN ON STAGE AT NATIONAL FRONT RALLY
- Embargoed: 23rd December 2016 15:30
- Keywords: Le Pen Marine Le Pen election National Front 2017 presidential far right
- Location: PARIS, NANTERRE AND VILLEPINTE, FRANCE
- City: PARIS, NANTERRE AND VILLEPINTE, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Reuters ID: LVA0025C0X9VR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Visiting Paris' biggest Christmas market on Thursday (December 8), France's far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen posed for cameras with a huge smile, embracing Father Christmas -- the type of photo op the presidential candidate, still battling one of the most negative image among top French politicians, relishes.
Instead of the more traditional stockings with socks and chocolate coins, Le Pen's wishlist for Santa may prove more elusive.
"My wish is for France to pick a leader who thinks of the people," she said, in casual reference to the presidential election in May.
She appeared to have won over Father Christmas at least.
"It's very nice of her to come and see us," a man dressed in a Santa costume who did not wish to give his name told Reuters.
Polls see Le Pen emerging in the top two from the election's first round on April 23, but show her likely to be beaten by the mainstream right as voters unite to reject a party whose image is for many still tarnished by its past.
Since taking over from her father at the helm of the anti-immigration, anti-EU party, Le Pen has made efforts to soften the party's images and boost its electoral hopes.
Her website shows her petting kittens and dogs and she talked at length to a French reality show host about her love of gardening, her cooking specialties and her childhood sorrows.
The aim, say aides, is to let the voter know who "the real Le Pen" is.
"Maybe during this campaign people are going to have the chance to get to know her better, and to get away from the caricature, this constant demonising, which the media and the system do to Marine Le Pen to see who she really is and who she's really always been," local councillor from the National Front, Aurelien Legrand, said.
Expert in political communication at the French national centre for scientific research (CNRS) Isabelle Veyrat-Masson said the aim was to "normalise" Le Pen.
"There's a desire to 'normalise' her communication and her candidacy, and 'normalisation' means a different tone, words that aren't used anymore, a complete lack of aggressiveness, the complete disappearance of references which could be controversial or questionable, she's not looking at all for publicity stunts as her father did," she told Reuters.
Party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen -- an ex-paratrooper who shocked the political establishment when he made it through to the 2002 election's second round -- was ostracised from the party earlier this year for repeated controversial comments about the Holocaust.
His daughter's new campaign posters do not bear the family name, and the traditional flame logo has been ditched in favour of a blue rose.
"She erases those aspects with a way of speaking without harshness, without hatred, which is very remarkable and which makes her an excellent communicator," Veyrat-Masson said.
There is, however, work to be done if Le Pen is to persuade enough voters to back her in the election's second round.
Some 50 percent of voters have a 'very negative' image of Le Pen, an Elate poll showed on Thursday, the highest number for any politician tested in the poll. Also taking into account those who view her 'rather negatively', the overall negative image is still one of the highest.
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