Songbirds flitted among the redbud trees. The wind tickled yellow flowers in fields of rapeseed. The medieval church clock clanged on the hour.
Otherwise all was still in this one-boulangerie town in the French countryside when Marine Le Pen strode to the lectern and, with the unwavering force of a freight train, vowed to save the country on behalf of its forgotten young.
“Our youth are in despair,” the 48-year-old thundered. “I will be the voice of the voiceless.”
Two-thirds of the way back in an overflow crowd, Adrien Vergnaud knew instantly that the leader of France’s far-right National Front was speaking for him. The joblessness, the migrants, the terrorism. She was the only one who cared.
Without her, said the tautly muscled 25-year-old construction worker, his troubled country has “no future.”
But with the backing of young voters like Vergnaud, Le Pen may become the next president of France.
As the country hurtles toward the election this spring that could alter the course of European history — the first round is Sunday — Le Pen’s once-longshot and now undeniably viable bid to lead France rests heavily on an unlikely source of support.
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