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France's National Front: Will Marine Le Pen take the reins?

Founder Jean-Marie Le Pen is silent on who will next lead the National Front party: Marine Le Pen, his populist daughter, or Bruno Gollnisch, his 'purist' right-hand man.

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Gollnisch insists that he has the moxie to move the party out. He casts himself as a "little guy from the provinces." But so far he isn't even talking to the main center-right party of Mr. Sarkozy, where the voters are. His hatred for political correctness is reputedly visceral. "He prefers to fish in silent, dark waters," a Paris political analyst says.

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His outreach is to figures like Philippe de Villiers, a denizen of the extremes who opposes the European Union, the euro, Islam, and Turkey in Europe; who wants riot police to use live ammunition; and who this month tried to ban a heavy-metal concert as "Satanist."

Ms. Le Pen, meanwhile, is taking on figures like Sarkozy and getting quoted almost daily. On the socialist left, she is compared to Sarah Palin, especially after claiming a feminist mantle.

And the return home this week of France's World Cup team, disgraced by its poor performance on and off the field, has only given Ms. Le Pen's earlier statements added weight. Much of the national reaction to the team's behavior was racially loaded, prompting urban affairs minister Fadela Amara to warn against "building a highway for the National Front."

Party witch hunt

Gol­l­nischians snarl that Ms. Le Pen, a tool of Zionists, is conducting party witch hunts to out his supporters. "She is an empty shell … compatible with anything," says former Front vice president Jean-Claude Martinez.

Gollnisch is "faithful to the fundamentals of the Front, whose program he wrote," says analyst Philippe Cohen. "When Marine is 'divisive,' Gollnisch says he is ready to rally the scattered forces of the extreme right."

Mr. Le Pen is silent on the internal struggle. He has long been the face of the European far right, and a powerful influence as the mainstream scrambled to match his ability to capture popular discontent. In 2002, he shocked Paris by facing Jacques Chirac in the national runoff. In 2007, his party did poorly. But Sarkozy's victory was partly based on adopting Le Pen positions and siphoning votes.

Whether the daughter can move the party into power politics is unclear. In The New York Times recently, she described the trials of being a Le Pen, but affirmed core party views: "There has been a withdrawal into non-French identities because we sapped French nationality of its content.… So how can someone be proud? We spend all our lives saying, 'We are ... colonizers, slavery promoters.' "

The Le Pens, in any event, seem here to stay. Mr. Le Pen's granddaughter, Marion Marechal Le Pen, ran in the March local elections. She's 19.

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