Carla Bruni-Sarkozy gave the strongest indication yet that her husband will run for re-election as president in the spring, as new polls placed Nicolas Sarkozy just two points ahead of Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader.
Mr Sarkozy is yet to launch his campaign for a second five-year term. He is expected to leave the announcement until the last minute. But his 44-year old former supermodel wife gave a strong signal that he would run, saying she would "stand by him" if he chose to do so.
"If he needs me, I'll be there," said the first lady on her first official engagement since giving birth to their daughter Guilia in October.
Elysee sources suggest Mr Sarkozy intends to throw down the gauntlet at the last possible moment -- five or six weeks before the first round on April 22.
Mr Sarkozy is seeking to portray himself as a safe pair of hands in tackling the euro crisis compared with the relatively inexperienced Socialist rival and front-runner, Francois Hollande.
The tactic appears to have helped him to catch up with Mr Hollande, whom one poll suggests he now trails by just two points in voting intentions.
But the president's greatest immediate threat is the rise of Miss Le Pen. An IFOP poll released yesterday put the National Front leader within striking distance of Mr Sarkozy, with 21.5pc of the vote compared to his 23.5pc, raising the possibility that she could knock him out to reach the second round. (© Daily Telegraph, London)