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Macron will be the first President reelected in 20 years

Paris (CNN)Emmanuel Macron will win France's presidential election, pollsters project, fending off a historic challenge from right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen during Sunday's runoff vote.

Macron is projected to take 58.5% of the vote, according to an analysis of voting data by pollsters Ipsos & Sopra Steria conducted for broadcasters France Televisions and Radio, making him the first French leader to be reelected in 20 years. However, voter turnout was on track to be the lowest for a presidential runoff since 2002, according to government data released late afternoon local time. Ipsos & Sopra Steria projected an abstention rate of 28.2% for the second-round vote, which is also the highest since 2002.
French pollsters typically release projections at 8 p.m. local time, when the polls close in major cities and several hours before the French Interior Ministry releases the official results. These projections, which are based on data from voting stations that close at 7 p.m. in the rest of the country, are usually used by the candidates and French media to declare a winner.
Though Macron's pitch to voters of a globalized, economically liberal France at the head of a muscular European Union won out over Le Pen's vision for a radical shift inward, the 41.5% of people who voted for her put the French far right closer to the presidency than ever before.
Macron's supporters, gathered on Champs de Mars in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in central Paris, broke out in massive cheers when the news was announced.
Within a half hour, Le Pen delivered a concession speech to her backers gathered nearby at a pavilion in western Paris' Bois de Boulogne.
"A great wind of freedom could have blown over our country, but the ballot box decided otherwise," Le Pen said.
Still, Le Pen acknowledged the fact that the far right had never performed so well in a presidential election. She called the result "historic" and a "shining victory" that put her political party, National Rally, "in an excellent position" for June's parliamentary elections.
"The game is not quite over," she said.
Macron and Le Pen advanced to the runoff after finishing in first and second place, respectively, among 12 candidates who ran in the first round on April 10. They spent the next two weeks crisscrossing the country to woo those who did not vote for them in the first round.
The second-round lineup was a repeat of the 2017 presidential runoff, when Macron -- then a political newcomer -- trounced Le Pen by nearly two votes to one. This time, however, Macron had to run on a mixed record on domestic issues, like his handling of the yellow vest protests and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Macron-Le Pen rematch was expected to be tighter than the first contest five years ago. A poll released after the first-round vote showed that this runoff could be as close as 51% to 49%. By the time campaigning ended Friday, most polls put the two candidates about 10 points apart.
Le Pen's ability to attract new voters since 2017 is the latest indication that the French public are turning to extremist politicians to voice their dissatisfaction with the status quo. In the first round, far-left and far-right candidates accounted for more than 57% of the ballots cast, while 26.3% of registered voters stayed home -- resulting in the lowest turnout figure in 20 years.
Le Pen's campaign attempted to tap into public anger over a cost-of-living squeeze by campaigning hard on helping people cope with inflation and rising energy prices -- a major concern for the French electorate -- rather than relying on the anti-Islamist, anti-immigration and Euroskeptic positions that dominated her first two attempts at winning the presidency in 2017 and 2012.
She presented herself as a more mainstream and less radical candidate, even though much of her manifesto remained the same as five years ago. "Stopping uncontrolled immigration" and "eradicating Islamist ideologies" were her manifesto's two priorities, and analysts said many of her policies on the EU would have put France at odds with the bloc.
Though Le Pen had abandoned some of her most controversial policy proposals, like leaving the European Union and the euro, her views on immigration and her position on Islam in France -- she wants to make it illegal for women to wear headscarves in public -- did not change.
"I think that the headscarf is a uniform imposed by the Islamists," she said during the one and only presidential debate Wednesday. "I think that the great majority of the women who wear one can't do otherwise in reality, even if they don't dare say so."
French far-right contender Marine Le Pen casts her vote in Henin-Beaumont, in northern France, on Sunday.
But Vladimir Putin was perhaps her biggest political liability. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Le Pen was a vocal supporter of the Russian President, even visiting him during her 2017 campaign. Her party also took out a loan from a Russian Czech bank several years ago that it is still repaying.
Though she has since condemned Moscow's invasion, Macron attacked Le Pen on her previous positions during the debate. He argued that she could not be trusted to represent France when dealing with the Kremlin.
"You're speaking to your banker when you're talking to Russia. That's the problem," Macron said during the debate. "You cannot properly defend the interests of France on this subject because your interests are linked to people close to the Russian power"
Le Pen said her party was forced to seek funding abroad because that no French bank would approve the loan request, but the defense seemingly failed to resonate.

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