|The top French candidates at a debate - Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images|
For most of the race, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have been leading to go into the second. With the first round on Sunday, it is expected that both candidates will make it and go head-to-head in the second, where polling initially shows Macron prevailing. The problem for both candidates is that Macron's support is quite soft while Le Pen is prone to gaffes. There are also two major threats to the front-runners who have not gone away.
Francois Fillon, the Republican nominee, simply isn't going away. The former prime minister has had to deal with scandals, but he has a solid fifth of the French electorate backing him. This coalition of Catholic traditionalists and the people in business community is very formidable. He also seems to have some sort of momentum as the first round gets closer. It might not be enough to get him into the next round, but it is enough to keep the free market reformist in the game. What matters for Fillon is how many voters he can convince at the last minute before voting.
What has happened in the French left is even more shocking. The incumbent Socialist Party is so unpopular that their candidate, former Minister of National Education Benoit Hamon, is polling under 10 percent. The French left is moving further way from the center and rally behind communist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, a member of the European Parliament. Melenchon is the exact opposite of the Thatcherite Fillon. He has proposed a possible withdrawal from the European Union, a departure from NATO, a 100 billion euro economic stimulus plan, nationalization of many sectors, and an (Good Lord) 100 percent income tax on people making 360,000 euros a year.
Melenchon has been a very good debater. Two debates have taken place and he has stood out in both of them. This has propelled him into a virtual tie with Fillon. Another factor in Melenchon's rise is just how innovative his campaign has been. He has used projection screens to give speeches at multiple locations.
As for now, Macron and Le Pen look like safe bets to enter the second round, but their leads are shrinking as Fillon and Melenchon make gains. With the race starting to get tight, there is a rising uncertainty about what to expect the night of the first round.
It really comes down to where the French they're going on the economy and the refugee crisis. Marine Le Pen is very popular because of her "France for the French" campaign rhetoric. She represents major change in French politics. Macron is basically representing the establishment even if he left the Socialist Party to form his own movement.