Marine Le Pen sought to distance herself from a row over the Front National’s anti-Semitic roots and broaden her appeal by promising on Saturday to appoint a eurosceptic former rival as prime minister.
The presidential hopeful made the announcement at a joint press conference with Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who ran against her in the first round of the election, taking 4.7 per cent of the vote, but has now endorsed her.
“We will build a national unity government that will bring together people chosen for their skills and their love of France,” she said.
Emmanuel Macron, the centrist frontrunner facing Ms Le Pen in the final round of the election on May 7, dismissed the appointment as a “ploy to fix the credibility problems of Marine Le Pen.”
Ms Le Pen also played down one of her least popular policies - ditching the euro.
Softening her stance on the timetable for exiting the single currency, she said it could take 18 months as other policies might take priority.
Previously she had said she would call a Frexit referendum within six months of taking office if the EU rejected her demands for changes, including a return to national currencies by the 19 countries that use the euro.
“The euro is dead,” she told Le Parisien newspaper, but reiterated her policy that the single currency might continue to be used for international trade by big companies, but the franc would be restored for daily transactions in France.
With three-quarters of French voters opposed to abandoning the euro, pollsters said Ms Le Pen’s change of tone could win votes among key groups, including pensioners, concerned about the possible economic consequences of the policy.
Some within her party are reluctant advocates of withdrawing from the Eurozone.
Ms Le Pen has temporarily stood down from the leadership of the Front National (FN) in an attempt to reach out to voters who may be put off by a party many still regard as xenophobic and far-Right, despite her efforts to “de-toxify” it.
Her strategy suffered a setback when Jean-François Jalkh, the man she picked as interim party leader, was forced to resign on Friday only days after being appointed when claims emerged that he had denied the Holocaust.
She was dealt another blow when her father, the FN's founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, criticised a memorial ceremony for the gay policeman killed in the recent Champs-Elysées terror attack for “honouring the homosexual more than the officer”.
Mr Macron’s movement, En Marche (On the Move) demanded that Ms Le Pen, whose key aide Florian Philippot is gay, publicly condemn the remarks.
She had her father expelled from the party in 2015 over an anti-Semitic outburst.
Ms Le Pen herself provoked outrage only weeks ago by denying that the French state was to blame for deporting Jews from Paris during the Second World War to concentration camps.
Most French Jews, estimated to number 500,000, are deeply sceptical about her courting of mainstream voters and Jewish support.
France’s chief rabbi, Haïm Korsia, has urged Jews to back Mr Macron.
In the Jewish quarter of Paris, with its cobbled lanes lined with felafel stalls, Orthodox synagogues and Kosher food shops, people talk of a mass exodus of Jews if Ms Le Pen wins. Israel is preparing for such a possibility.
Yonathan Arfi of the CRIF, an umbrella group of Jewish organisations, said Jews were alarmed by the “normalisation” of Ms Le Pen’s advance: “French society is not seeing it as something exceptional. That is worrying.”
Jean-Paul Rosner, 81, sees the Front National’s electoral gains as a threat to France’s fundamental freedoms.
He recalls watching German troops occupying the opposite bank of the River Saone in Lyon from the window of his family’s second-floor flat on November 11, 1942.
Eleven days later, he was taken to a farm 40 kilometres from the city where a Catholic couple hid him and his brother for almost two years, until the Germans eventually withdrew.
“Not everyone who votes for the Front National is racist, some are just fed up with political corruption, but the movement is still very dangerous,” said Mr Rosner, a retired furrier.
Yet a sprinkling of Jews will be among the thousands of admirers who watch Ms Le Pen lay a wreath at Joan of Arc’s statue in Paris on Monday before a rally in a northern suburb.
A fringe Jewish group that backs the FN claims more than 900 members. About 12 per cent of French Jews voted for the party in the 2012 election, an IFOP survey showed, up from six per cent in 2002.
Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on the far-Right, said a minority of Sephardic Jews, with roots in the Arab world rather than eastern Europe, were tempted to vote for the FN because they saw “a common enemy” in militant Islam.
“They were less affected by the Holocaust than European Jews,” he said.
They believe Ms Le Pen’s tough talk on Islam and immigration outweigh any taint of far-Right collaboration with France’s Nazi occupiers during the Second World War.
Mr Rosner, who escaped deportation thanks to the bravery of the French Catholics who risked their lives to protect him, fears France may fall into the hands of the FN.
He warned: “Even if Macron wins this time, if he doesn’t succeed in improving the economy before the next election in 2022, Le Pen could win then.”