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Far-Right National Front Gains In French Regional Elections

National Front party leader Marine Le Pen speaks during a news conference Monday in Lille, France, following Sunday's first-round voting in regional elections on Sunday. Pascal Rossignol/Reuters /Landov hide caption

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Pascal Rossignol/Reuters /Landov

National Front party leader Marine Le Pen speaks during a news conference Monday in Lille, France, following Sunday's first-round voting in regional elections on Sunday.

Pascal Rossignol/Reuters /Landov

France's far-right National Front party scored big gains in the first round of voting in regional elections on Sunday.

It was on track to place first in six of the 13 regions. If the party is able to solidify those gains in the second round of voting next Sunday, it will position the National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, as a formidable candidate in the 2017 presidential election.

"Fear of terrorism and immigration explains part of the reason for the National Front's success," NPR's Eleanor Beardsey reported. "Marine Le Pen wants to stop mass immigration and control French borders. She says France must take back its sovereignty lost to the European union."

The National Front's anti-immigrant stance has resonated in a country shaken by the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, in which extremists killed 130 people and wounded more than 300 others.

As this chart in Quartz shows, however, the party has made gains in the past several electoral cycles, thanks in part to the efforts of Le Pen — daughter of the National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen — to bring the party into the mainstream. The elder Le Pen was kicked out of the National Front earlier this year, amid a public spat with his 47-year-old daughter over a number of inflammatory statements on the Holocaust and other topics.

The National Front had its best showing in two regions where Le Pens were at the top of the ballot: Marine Le Pen in the northern region known as Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, and her 25-year-old niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur.

Maréchal-Le Pen is seen as more ideological than her aunt. As The Telegraph reports, she has supported a campaign against same-sex marriage and has promised to cut subsidies to family planning offices in the Provence region if she succeeds in leading the region.