“It is no longer the time to reform France, but to save it,” Zemmour said, claiming that many voters “no longer recognise your country.”
The man sometimes described as “France’s Trump”, 63, made a dramatic entrance into politics in September when he began a nationwide book tour that served as thinly disguised campaigning.
Acid-tongued, intense and with two convictions for hate speech, Zemmour is hoping his radical pitch to voters on curbing immigration and Islam in France will appeal to conservatives in a country riven with racial and religious tensions.
He is one of France’s best-known and most controversial commentators who has made his name by warning about the “colonisation” of the country by Muslims whose religion he views as “incompatible” with French values.
He has also popularised a conspiracy theory backed by white supremacists known as “the great replacement theory” which posits that native Europeans are being deliberately replaced by immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.
“The great replacement is neither a myth, nor a conspiracy, but a relentless process,” he wrote in his latest book entitled “France Has Not Said Its Final Word”.
Opinion polls showed support for Zemmour shooting up in September and October, briefly making him the best-placed rival to current incumbent Emmanuel Macron (who has not declared that he will stand but is thought highly likely to do so) but his popularity appears to have faded over the last month.
The latest survey put Zemmour third in the first round of voting at 14-15 percent, down 2-3 points from the start of November, according to research from the Ifop group published in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday.
He trailed Macron on 25 percent and Marine Le Pen – leader of the far-right Rassemblement National – on 19-20 percent.
With these scores, they would both advance to a second-round runoff which Macron would win if the vote were held now, the survey indicated.
Analysts stress that the outcome of the election remains highly uncertain with the main right-wing Republicans party only set to announce its nominee this Saturday and many voters yet to make up their minds.
Pundits have speculated for months about the impact of Zemmour’s decision to give up his lucrative career as a media pundit and author in favour of becoming a wildcard in the presidential race.
One possibility is that he and Le Pen eliminate each other by splitting the far-right vote in the first round on April 10, although no polls currently indicate this is likely to happen.
Le Pen is sounding newly confident, claiming that the “dust is starting to settle” after an early media blitz by her rival, who is the son of Algerian Jewish migrant parents.
“I think he’ll end up below 10 percent,” she told AFP on November 20th.
Zemmour “might end up being a stroke of luck”, she said. “With the violence and brutality that he expresses, he makes my project seem more reasonable and implementable.”
As well as facing softening polling numbers, the amateur historian has been plagued by difficulties in recent weeks.
At the weekend, he was photographed giving a middle finger to a protester who approached his car.
“Real deep!” he was overheard saying in a gesture that made headlines around the country and led to suggestions he might have alienated some of the elderly, conservative Catholic voters who form his core support.
Celebrity magazine Closer also reported last week that the married father-of-three was expecting a baby with his 28-year-old chief advisor Sarah Knafo – which he denounced as an invasion of privacy, but did not deny.
Other influential far-right figures have distanced themselves from him in recent weeks, and his campaign team is said to be riven with infighting and dominated by young activists with little political experience.
“I don’t support this candidacy which is tainted by desperation,” former campaign aide Pierre Meurin told L’Express magazine on Monday.
“You need to offer people some dreams, and not only blood and tears.”