That recognition is the result of a life in the spotlight, if often in the shadow of her father, whose cronies once sneered at the young upstart, a wealthy heiress with a fondness for Champagne and parties — until she took leadership of the party from him in 2011 and cast him out in 2015.
“She got up there with all her awkwardness, and she had a freshness, with her round cheeks,” Jean-Claude Martinez, one of her father’s old party associates, recalled of Ms. Le Pen’s early appearances in the news media, which thrust her into the national consciousness. “The world discovered her. She was born in the media.”
At the raucous rallies that pack in thousands, many proudly trace their allegiance back to her overthrown father. But under the daughter, the National Front’s appeal has grown steadily. She got over seven million votes in the election’s first round, on April 23, a million more than in 2015 regional elections, and nearly two million more than her father received in 2002.
“She’s permanently underestimated,” said Jean-Lin Lacapelle, a top aide and friend to Ms. Le Pen, with a long history of National Front activism. “Macron is the candidate of the system.”
Her critics regard her as a dangerous nationalist and demagogue. Her supporters interpret her willingness to cast blame on “the system,” “the oligarchy” and especially immigrants as proof of her sincerity.
“It’s the truthfulness with which she expresses herself,” said Michel Duvernet, a middle-aged shopkeeper from the southern town of Cogolin, explaining why he had come to Ms. Le Pen’s rally in the coastal city of St.-Raphaël in March.
“Also, the simplicity of her words,” said Mr. Duvernet, praising Ms. Le Pen for putting her finger on what he called “the Islamic unbearableness of what we live every day,” in the speech she had just given.
“Plus, she just reaches out to ordinary people,” he said.
Raymond Herbreteau, a physical education coach from the Orne administrative department, who traveled to Ms. Le Pen’s rally in the western city of Nantes in February, spoke of Ms. Le Pen filling a new vacuum in French politics.
“She sticks to the same line, of sovereignty,” Mr. Herbreteau said. “Besides, the left isn’t even the left any more. They’re for globalization and capitalism. More and more are convinced by her.”