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Will France's First Lady Be Able To Seduce Voters?

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In the traditional world of French politics, spouses don't usually jump into the fray. But French first lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy is anything but a traditional political spouse.

Her husband, President Nicolas Sarkozy, has just announced he is running for re-election this spring. It's a challenge: Polls show him trailing the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy's wife has promised to do everything she can to help her husband win — and that includes hitting the campaign trail.

It will be her first political campaign. Bruni married Sarkozy in 2007, just after he was elected and his second wife left him. In a rare interview with the BBC last fall, Bruni Sarkozy talked about their brief courtship.

"Walking around the garden of the Palais of the Elysee [the official residence of the French president], and he was giving me all these details about tulips and roses. And I said to myself, 'My God, I must marry this man,'" she recalled. "He's president and he knows everything about flowers as well. This is incredible."

But the French people were taken aback by the highly public, lightning-quick courtship between the supermodel-turned-pop singer and their hyperactive new leader. Many thought it wasn't fitting presidential behavior.

Since then, the first lady has taken a lower profile. She's become so discreet that no one has even seen photos of the couple's baby daughter, born in October.

Writer Andre Bercoff says Bruni Sarkozy has now earned the right to enter the political arena.

"I think she can help her husband by something very important: by showing that he's very happy. He's happily married. He just had a child at the Elysee Palace, which is very, very new," Bercoff says. "She has class, she has style. She's definitely an asset."

Bruni Sarkozy's "coming out" is delighting the media. She has appeared on magazine covers and television — though she hasn't said much beyond the fact that she thinks her husband's ideas are all fabulous.

Sarah Merlino, a reporter at the glossy society magazine Gala, says the first lady's culture and intellect — she hails from a prominent Italian family — is also an asset for Sarkozy. Carla has reportedly gotten Nicolas to read more, and to watch different films. And that's not all.

"Carla Bruni is a pacifier," Merlino says. "She's very soft. And she softens the brutal character of her ill-mannered husband."

Watchers of Bruni Sarkozy, who has a nearly 70 percent approval rating, say the first lady has slowly but surely seduced the French. Now all she has to do is convince them to vote for her husband.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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