PARIS France's UDI party of centrists threw their backing on Wednesday behind conservative former prime minister Alain Juppe ahead of a primary election next month.
Some 600 UDI elected officials and party head Jean-Christophe Lagarde offered their support for Juppe in an opinion piece in newspaper Le Monde.
Their backing boosts Juppe's chances of winning November's primary for centrists and conservatives to choose a candidate for the two-round presidential vote next April and May.
Though the 71-year-old Juppe regularly ranks as one of France's most popular politicians, he has struggled to cut a higher profile in the media, especially against Nicolas Sarkozy.
The conservative former president frequently dominates media coverage with a hardline on immigration and security, as he seeks to win voters from the far right National Front.
Some three-fourths of conservative and centrist voters have a favourable opinion of the more moderate Juppe while only 55 percent look favourably on Sarkozy, according to an Elabe poll for BFMTV published on Wednesday.
Given the ruling Socialists unpopularity, the winner of the Nov. 20 and 27 primary election has a good chance of making it to the run-off round of the presidential election in May, possibly against National Front leader Marine Le Pen.
(Reporting by Simon Carraud and Leigh Thomas; Editing by John Irish)