Why you should care about the French election

Who is Marine Le Pen?
Who is Marine Le Pen?

    JUST WATCHED

    Who is Marine Le Pen?

MUST WATCH

Who is Marine Le Pen? 01:47

Story highlights

  • The race to be the next leader of France is one with implications not only for the US, but also for the rest of the world
  • Even before Trump and Obama got involved, the French election was already regarded as the latest test of the sweeping global populism that led to Brexit

(CNN)A presidential election in France is not usually the sort of thing that I would tell you to pay attention to. After all, it's hard enough to convince people that they should pay attention to elections in this country.

But, even before the latest terror attack in the country earlier this week, the race to be the next leader of France was one with implications not only for the US but for the rest of the world.
The reason is the presence of Marine Le Pen in the race. Le Pen, who most polls suggest will finish first or second when the first round of voting concludes Sunday night in France, is an avowed nationalist who has taken a hard-line approach on immigration and Islamic terrorism.
    In the wake of the shootings on the Champs Elysees Thursday that left a police officer dead, Le Pen called for the closing of all "Islamist" mosques in the country and the immediate expulsion of those on France's equivalent of a terror watch list.
    How French terror attack will change election
    exp GPS Bernard-Henri Levy France attack election_00011201

      JUST WATCHED

      How French terror attack will change election

    MUST WATCH

    How French terror attack will change election 02:18
    That episode is widely speculated as likely to aid Le Pen in the final hours of the campaign, reinforcing the dangers posed by terrorism. (ISIS has claimed credit for the attack.) President Trump joined that speculation in an interview with the Associated Press Friday in which he said the latest attack will "probably help" Le Pen.
    "[Le Pen] is strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France," Trump said.
    Trump's comments about Le Pen came just a day after former President Barack Obama called Emmanuel Macron, the center-left candidate seen as Le Pen's sturdiest challenger.
    "The main message that I have is to wish you all the best in the coming days," Obama can be heard telling Macron in a recording of the video the candidate posted on Twitter Thursday. "Make sure you that, as you said, you work hard all the way through. Because, you never know -- it might be that last day of campaigning that makes all the difference."
    Unlike Le Pen's hardline stance in the wake of this week's terror attack, Macron sounded a decidedly Obama-esque note. "Do not give in to fear, do not give in to division, do not give in to intimidation," Macron said. "The choice that you have to make on Sunday must be a choice for the future."
    Even before Trump and Obama got involved in the French election, it was already regarded as the latest test of the sweeping global populism that led to Britain's stunning break from the European Union and Trump's staggering victory stateside last November. Le Pen has positioned herself as a strident nationalist who believes immigration has eroded the idea of France and that it needs to be seriously curtailed.
    No one -- including Le Pen -- is expected to win the 50% of the vote necessary to win the presidency outright on Sunday. (Aside from Le Pen and Macron, Francois Fillon, the center-right candidate, and Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far-left candidate, are expected to draw significant support in the first round of voting.)
    A runoff between the top two vote-getters would be on May 7. If, and this looks likely if the polls are to be believed, that runoff features Le Pen against Macron, you can expect to hear a lot more about the French election and what it all means for the global populist movement that delivered Donald Trump to the White House in the coming weeks.