Zemmour, looking to outmanouevre fellow far-right rival Marine Le Pen, holding a first campaign rally at Reims, north east of Paris, said he was on the side of “the France that works”.
As Zemmour addressed 6,000 supporters, around 3,000 turned out to back their choice in Reims, where the general view was that Le Pen represents a less “extremist” view of the world.
Choosing Reims, a city where numerous French kings were crowned down the centuries, Le Pen beamed as one backer, 58-year-old businesswoman Annick, said she would get her vote.
“I am doing well economically but with Marine Le Pen there are values — attachment to our French identity, an image of firmness,” said Annick.
She dubbed Zemmour “an extremist in his attitude and words” who “has no sincerity”.
Both far-right candidates are looking to sweep up support in their bid to reach a presidential run-off vote in the industrial north of the country which is a traditional hotbed of support.
France goes to the polls in presidential elections in April.
The north is also a region, Zemmour suggested, where “handouts are an insult”.
Promising to tackle low salaries, he scoffed: “When you get up every morning to go and work … you don’t accept that your neighbour lives better than you do thanks to welfare without having to work.”
Lille’s Socialist mayor Martine Aubry had earlier said Zemmour was not welcome in the town and joined a demonstration against “hate” organised by anti-racism group SOS Racisme.
During Zemmour’s rally one journalist with private broadcaster LCI told AFP one of his supporters had spat in her face.