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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France Considers Its 3rd Candidate

PARIS -- In the final weeks of the French presidential campaign, dominated by a nurturing Socialist and a crime-busting conservative, a third candidate has upended the race with a very American theme: put partisanship aside and end the false promises of the big parties.

Francois Bayrou, 55, is a politician, a farmer and a former classics teacher, and he is campaigning as the "neither-nor" option. Remarkably, the strategy seems to be working, in part because of rising disillusionment over the two main candidates.

The percentage of undecided voters is higher than before any French presidential election in 25 years. Between 17 and 20 percent of voters say they will choose Bayrou in the first electoral round on April 22, according to France's major polling organizations. Suddenly, he is a contender.

Bayrou is no maverick, but is portraying himself as a tried and true centrist and a fresh face.

After a year in which the right's Nicolas Sarkozy and the left's Segolene Royal got most of the news coverage, newspapers across the political spectrum have now moved "the third man" to their front pages. It now seems possible that he could edge out Royal and make it to the second round of voting May 6.

"The French people want a president who brings them together rather than one who divides them, a president who reassures them rather than one who worries them," Bayrou said in an interview. "The profound truth is that my election -- because I believe that I can be elected -- will be the expression of the will of France to rediscover itself."

The oddest thing about Bayrou's swift ascendancy is that he has been around for so long. He ran for the first time in a local election in 1978 and landed a job in the agriculture ministry the next year. He was first elected to the parliament from his native Pyrenees-Atlantic region in 1986 and was education minister in the 1990s. Since 1998, he has headed a centrist party, the Union for French Democracy, which his political mentor, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, founded in the 1970s.

Unlike both Sarkozy and Royal, Bayrou has even run for president once before, in 2002, when he received only 6.8 percent of the vote in the first round.

Yet he is succeeding in presenting himself as a vessel for the hopes of the disaffected -- a healer and a realist.

"I am a democrat, I am a Clintonian," he said.