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PARIS—French President

Emmanuel Macron

confirmed just ahead of the deadline that he plans to run for re-election next month, officially kicking off a campaign that the war in Ukraine has overshadowed.

Mr. Macron announced his candidacy in a letter published by several regional newspapers on Thursday, an unusually low-key way to join a campaign that his opponents have been urging him to enter for weeks. Under French election law, presidential candidates have had declare they are running by the end of the day on Friday.

“We are experiencing upheaval at an incredible speed,” Mr. Macron wrote in his letter. “Make no mistake: we will not address these challenges by turning inwards or appealing to nostalgia.”

The president’s aides say that the demands of coordinating France’s and Europe’s response to Russia’s increasingly violent invasion of Ukraine forced him to repeatedly postpone announcing his official candidacy.

“I won’t be able to campaign as I would have wished given the context,” Mr. Macron wrote.

Still, his focus on the geopolitical crisis has helped him stifle his main opponents by keeping him above the domestic political fray. While Mr. Macron’s shuttle diplomacy over the Ukraine crisis failed to avert war with Russia, his visibility on the world stage helped cement his status as a statesman at a time when analysts say voters are seeking a steady hand.

War in Europe has also sidelined some of the issues his main political opponents have focused their campaigns on, such as crime, immigration and the place of Islam in French society.

Support for Mr. Macron this week rose to its highest yet in a poll for the current race. He would receive 28% of the vote in the first round of presidential elections on April 10, ahead of far-right leader

Marine Le Pen,

who would get 16%, the Ifop poll said. Anti-immigrant TV pundit

Eric Zemmour

and conservative candidate

Valérie Pécresse

came in at 14% and 13%, respectively.

Mr. Macron would handily win a runoff against Ms. Le Pen by 56.5% to 43.5%, the poll said. In France, the top two candidates in the first round of voting make it to the second and final round.

With five weeks to go before the first round of voting, Mr. Macron plans to hold just a few large rallies and campaign on a handful of themes including defense, the environment and purchasing power, his aides said.

While wartime diplomacy has burnished Mr. Macron’s image, Russia’s invasion has proved a liability for some rivals who have previously voiced admiration for Russian President

Vladimir Putin.

Before Mr. Zemmour became a candidate, he publicly mused in 2018 that he dreamed of a French version of Mr. Putin, who would come along and save France. “He takes a country which was an empire, which could have been a great power, and he tries to straighten it out,” Mr. Zemmour said.

Weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, far-left firebrand

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

defended Mr. Putin and described Moscow’s concerns about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastward expansion as legitimate. “I consider that it is the United States which is in the aggressive position and not Russia,” Mr. Mélenchon said on national television. He quickly backtracked last week and condemned Russia’s attack.

Ms. Le Pen, who visited Mr. Putin in Moscow just before France’s 2017 presidential election, sought to strike a balance, rejecting Mr. Putin’s actions while acknowledging he has a place in her political heart. “I think that everybody has a form of admiration for Mr. Putin, but frankly, I consider that what he’s done is highly reprehensible,” she said last week.

About 58% of French people believe that Mr. Macron rose to the occasion during the crisis in Ukraine, according to a recent poll, and 65% say the war will play an important role in how they decide to vote.

Write to Noemie Bisserbe at [email protected]

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