PARIS (AP) — More and more people want to join France's unpredictable presidential race — hopefuls who might never win but could garner enough votes to tilt the outcome.
Starting Saturday, would-be candidates have until March 17 to gather the signatures of 500 mayors (from the more than 35,000 mayors across France) to qualify for France's two-round presidential election April 23 and May 7. With two months before voting begins, here's a look at who wants to run and why:
FRANCE'S RISING RIGHT
With Europe's migrant influx and fears of Islamic extremism on many voters' minds, polls show high support for the tough-on-security platform of conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon and the nationalist campaign of far-right leader Marine Le Pen. However, Fillon has stumbled on allegations of fake taxpayer-funded jobs for his wife and children — particularly damaging for someone pledging to slash public spending. Le Pen, who came in third in the 2012 race, is facing financial investigations too. And while she hopes to ride a wave of anti-establishment, anti-European Union sentiment to power, numerous critics fear her worldview is racist and dangerous.
THE DIVIDED LEFT
With Socialist President Francois Hollande's popularity so dismal he declined to seek a second term, French leftists entered the race at a disadvantage. Benoit Hamon won the 2017 Socialist nomination on promises of paying every citizen a universal income, taxing robots and improving relations with France's Muslim population. But he faces his biggest challenge from far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, No. 4 in the 2012 election, who wants to shorten France's 35-hour workweek, leave NATO and block free-trade deals. Neither Hamon nor Melenchon appear keen to unite to boost the left's presidential chances.
FRENCH MAVERICK IN THE MIDDLE
Independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, who champions technology startups and European unity, has been the biggest surprise of the French presidential race so far. Seen as an outsider and a fresh face, the 39-year-old former investment banker and economy minister saw his support jump when Fillon's ethical troubles emerged. But Macron still hasn't released his campaign platform, and pollsters suggest even his supporters aren't entirely convinced the first-time candidate is presidential material.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Another centrist, three-time presidential candidate Francois Bayrou, 65, no longer has the sway he once enjoyed but still hopes to shake up the presidential race this year.
Instead of announcing his own candidacy Wednesday, as was widely expected, Bayrou declared that he wanted forge a centrist "alliance" with Macron. Commentators understood this to mean that Bayrou will throw his support behind the 39-year-old.
Bayrou said the move aimed to create a political "electric shock" in France.
Other French presidential hopefuls are lining up across the spectrum. Among them:
Trotskyist Nathalie Artaud and Philippe Poutou of the New Anti-Capitalist Party occupy the way-far-left, while Green party candidate Yannick Jadot wants to end France's huge reliance on nuclear power.
Sovereignty candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan campaigns against the EU and the shared euro currency while Rama Yade, a former government minister and Senegalese immigrant, and former Defense Minister Michele Aliot-Marie want to reincarnate the vision of wartime hero Charles de Gaulle.
French voters may also again see Jacques Cheminade's name on their ballot. The independent seems undeterred by his last-place showing in 1995 and 2012.