French President Nicolas Sarkozy trails his Socialist rival Francois Hollande by 10 percentage points [AFP]
With barely nine weeks to go until France's presidential election, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy has finally launched his re-election campaign in front of thousands of flag-waving supporters in the southern port city of Marseille.
Sarkozy has begun to close the gap between himself and opposition Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande, but on Sunday was still in second place in national opinion polls.
With him for the first time since he announced his bid in February was wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who has recently tried to tone down her glamorous persona.
Sarkozy's speech on Sunday in Parc Chanot, where he planned to reinforce his theme of extolling conservative French values and promising a "strong France" through "effort, responsibility and authority", came after the release of poll showing Hollande with a 55 per cent to 45 per cent lead.
Bruni's arrival was prepared as carefully as any of the her appearances on the fashion world's catwalks in her former life as a fashion model before her 2008 marriage to Sarkozy and last year's birth of their daughter Giulia.
For the past week she has appeared in an apparently "stolen" video adjusting her husband's Legion of Honour medal and giving him an awkward kiss, before giving an interview in the weekly TV Magazine.
In this listings magazine, distributed free with 60 local papers nationwide, she told of her love of popular soap operas like "Plus Belle la Vie", which is set in Marseille, and cheap and cheerful gameshows like "Fort Boyard".
In the tabloid Le Parisien and the free daily 20 Minutes she declared that she was "100 per cent" behind her husband's re-election bid, as he is the "best able to keep the country on course ... and has done everything well".
Paris gossips onced joked about Bruni's reported campaign to develop the cultural and intellectual values of her husband, whose nouveau-riche image has proved hard to shift.
Now, she claims that, thanks to him, she has begun to enjoy watching reality television talent shows and football and to be learning from her husband the joys of following the Tour de France .
Image management experts are sceptical that the makeover will work, or that Sarkozy himself will regain the lost affection of the French electorate, which seems to have absorbed the idea of him as a president for the rich.