PARIS (Reuters) - Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a former campaign spokeswoman of ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy, on Tuesday joined an already crowded race for the center-right's presidential nomination in a primary due in November.
Known in the French media by her initials "NKM", the 42-year-old mother of two has distanced herself from the former conservative president in recent months, criticizing a stance she says panders to the far-right National Front.
She will now stand against him and at least eight other candidates in the center-right primaries to be held in November, six months before the 2017 presidential election.
"These candidates only talk about themselves. They say 'I have changed', 'I'm new', 'I'll do better next time'. In this campaign, I want to talk about the French," she said on France's most-watched news bulletin, hoping to capitalize on International Women's Day on her status as a rare female high-flyer.
Credited with only 9 percent of the votes in a BVA opinion poll on the primary last month, her more moderate views are likely to make her more of a nuisance for Alain Juppe, the former prime minister who has emerged as Sarkozy's main rival.
Once dubbed "L'Emmerdeuse" - the pain in the neck - by former leader Jacques Chirac, she was expelled from the management of Sarkozy's Les Republicains conservative party in December, a move she denounced as a "Stalinist" purge.
Kosciusko-Morizet, whose grandfather was an ambassador to the United States, trained as an engineer at the elite Ecole Polytechnique before joining the ENA post-graduate school, the traditional grooming ground for French politicians.
Socially liberal, she supported gay marriage and has cultivated pro-environment credentials that make her popular with some center-left voters, but is also a fierce free-market advocate who wants to scrap the cherished 35-hour working week.
A member of parliament for the Essonne area south of Paris, home to wealthy grain farmers, she failed to dislodge the Socialists from Paris city hall in 2014, as she struggled to shake off a reputation for haughtiness.
Kosciusko-Morizet bolstered her critics' charges that she was out of touch when she told Elle magazine during the mayoral campaign that she thought the Paris underground train network was a "place of charm" with unexpected pleasures.
The comments prompted a barrage of mockery from Parisians forced to brave the crowded and often foul-smelling Metro each day.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Andrew Callus and Gareth Jones)