French voters headed to the polls to begin the process of picking "le president." France does things a little differently from the United States for its national election.
For one thing, there are multiple parties, and the winning candidate must hold a majority of votes. Because this time around three candidates split the vote in round one, voters will head back for a second round of voting on May 6.
The incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy is fighting to hold on for a second five-year term. The conservative will face socialist Francois Hollande, who managed to upset the standing president with a vote of 28.63% to 27.18%--but is still far from a majority needed to declare him the next president.
A shocker: the strong showing of Marine Le Pen, who heads the anti-immigrant National Front party, which scored a sizable 18% of the vote. The daughter of the party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, she managed to almost double the party's vote since 2007, when the National Front took just 10.4%.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Le Pen's strong results "alarming."
Sarkozy's plan: Woo Le Pen's voters back to the conservative base to beat Hollande when they return for the second round of voting on May 6. Hollande's plan: Do the same as Sarkozy and hope that the same reasons that the French are angry at joblessness and low growth may cause them to go left instead of far right. Translation: It's "l'economie, stupide."
Opinion polls show Hollande beating Sarkozy in the second round.