RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And then there were two. France went to the polls yesterday, and now two candidates are headed for a runoff two weeks from now. Those candidates are pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen. Both candidates ran as outsiders to France's political establishment. Macron is a former investment banker. He has never held political office. Le Pen has been a known quantity in French politics for a long time, but her politics - especially her take on immigration - are considered outside the French political mainstream. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is with us now from Paris. Hi, Eleanor.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: What does it mean that these are the two candidates who got the most votes? What message does that send?
BEARDSLEY: Right. Well, the first big message is it's a huge rejection of the status quo, establishment politicians. You know, I was at Macron's headquarters last night. People were very excited. Here's a guy who was completely unknown just three years ago, and he's on the cusp of becoming the next president. Here is Emmanuel Macron talking to his supporters.
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EMMANUEL MACRON: (Through interpreter) For the last year, all over France, you have taken the destiny of this country in your hands and shown that hope for our country is not a dream or a lobby or a bubble but a force of will.
BEARDSLEY: Now, Rachel, this is the first time in 60 years that neither the mainstream left nor the right is in a presidential runoff. And to give you an example of just how unestablishment these candidates are, look at the French Congress, the National Assembly. There's more than 500 members. Well, Marine Le Pen has two congressmen, and he has zero because he just started his party last summer.
MARTIN: Which I imagine is going to make it interesting if either of them actually has to cobble together...
MARTIN: ...Support in the parliament. So this race on Sunday was pretty close though, right? Macron got 23.75; Le Pen, 21.5. So what does that mean in the second round?
BEARDSLEY: Well - exactly. It looks very close. But the second round of voting is a totally different beast. OK? In the first round, the voters are split between 11 candidates or at least the main four. The two main parties are fragmented. Now we're going to come down to two people. And it is actually not very close. He has a potential for far greater support. He is expected to mop up all the mainstream left and right voters now. And in fact, the candidate who came in third place, Francois Fillon, he conceded last night. Here he is, and listen to what he says.
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FRANCOIS FILLON: Le Front National...
(Through interpreter) This party is known for its violence and intolerance. Its social and economic program will bring us to bankruptcy and chaos. Add to this the chaos of getting out of Europe - right-wing extremism, I assure you, can only bring misfortune and division to France. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron.
BEARDSLEY: Now, you cannot get any clearer than that, can you?
MARTIN: Yeah, sounds like an anti-Le Pen vote happening there. So second round, they have to broaden their respective messages, these two candidates. What are the issues?
BEARDSLEY: They do. Well, the issues are - some will remain the same. As you said, it's a very stark choice. He's a globalist. He's pro-EU, pro-business, pro-immigration. She wants to close borders, leave the EU, antiglobalization. It's going to be nasty. She - I've already heard it this morning - she's starting to paint him as an agent of the U.S. banking lobby because he was a, you know, former investment banker. He made a lot of money - where did it go? And also she said, this is a race about - a contest - between the patriots versus the globalists.
MARTIN: (Laughter) So even if Le Pen doesn't win, it's a big deal that she made the runoff, right?
BEARDSLEY: It is a very big deal. You know, she has managed to bring her once extremist party out of the wilderness. They are a major part of the political landscape. And this morning, what are the mainstream politicians saying on the radio and TV? They're saying OK, we can all go out and vote against her, but we cannot ignore her electorate. We have to talk to her voters. They're a force now.
MARTIN: So even if she doesn't win, she's not - she's not going to go anywhere. She's still going to be a part of French politics...
MARTIN: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks so much, Eleanor.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.