ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now let's turn to France, where voters will choose their president later this spring. The mainstream candidates have collapsed in this campaign. The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, is currently in the lead, while the conservative candidate, Francois Fillon, once considered a shoo-in, now looks like he's about to drop out of the race.
We're joined by NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who has traveled to a country town south of Paris to get a sense of how people are feeling. Hi, Eleanor.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Review the main candidates in the race for us.
BEARDSLEY: Right. So there's a lot of candidates. But the only three that matter are Marine Le Pen with the National Front. She's on the far right. She's - this party has never come close to winning. She's very close. She's leading the race. Emmanuel Macron, who has never been elected to political office. He's 39 years old. He briefly worked as Hollande's economy minister. He's completely green and untested. And he's in second place.
And in third place is Francois Fillon, the mainstream conservative. As you said, a couple months ago, he was considered the next French president until this job scandal, that he could have created this job for his wife, but she never worked. And he built himself as morally irreproachable. So he is sinking fast with this scandal hanging over him.
SHAPIRO: And what are voters saying where you are?
BEARDSLEY: People are stunned. They - you know, where I am is kind of conservative. There's farmers, business people. They were voting Fillon. This was a Fillon town. And now, they just don't know what to do. Some want to believe him. But they say, well, should we believe what the media is saying? And they don't know where to turn. They don't know if they should vote far-right Marine Le Pen, or should they vote for Macron. And it changes every day.
And now, there's a chance that the guy who was beaten by Fillon in the primary, Alain Juppe, a longtime politician, the party now is asking Fillon to step down. His campaign manager quit. And they want Juppe replace him. Ari, this is like if a couple months before the election, the Republican Party would not have a viable candidate.
SHAPIRO: French voters are used to voting strategically in the two rounds of the presidential vote. Is that changing this year?
BEARDSLEY: Completely, Ari. The French election's in two rounds. So people say, oh, the first round, it'll be a protest vote. You know, I'm going to go in there and vote for the far-right just to show the government I'm not happy. But the second round, you choose who you really want.
People are talking about, what if Marine Le Pen wins in the first round? People are saying you cannot play around in this election. They have to go in immediately and vote for who they want as soon as the first round.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Thanks Eleanor.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Ari.
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