Francois Fillon, former French prime minister, member of the Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the French centre-right holds his head as he walks in vineyards before a meeting with winegrowers in Nimes, France, March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier(reuters_tickers)
By Sophie Louet
PARIS (Reuters) - More cracks emerged in French conservative Francois Fillon's campaign for the presidency on Thursday a day after news he faces a formal investigation for allegations he misused public funds.
A flash opinion poll by Harris Interactive showed that only 25 percent of people now want him to continue as a candidate, down from 35 percent a month ago, while within his party The Republicans there were more resignations from the campaign after his decision on Wednesday to stay in the race.
While Fillon prepared for a rally in the southern city of Nimes, poll favourite Emmanuel Macron announced his full centrist manifesto and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen was due to give a presentation on the role of the French state in the economy.
With less than two months to go to the April 23 first round vote, polls consistently point to a second-round showdown on May 7 between Macron and Le Pen that Macron would win.
One of the first opinion polls partly taken after Fillon's legal woes deepened on Wednesday showed his support dipping below 20 percent for the first time in a week and the gap widening between him and the two leaders.
The Elabe poll, carried out between Tuesday and Thursday, showed Fillon on 19 percent of the vote, down from 20-21 percent in the last Elabe poll carried out from Feb. 18-20.
He trailed Le Pen, on 27 percent and Macron, on 24 percent.
Fillon already suffered a blow on Wednesday when adviser Bruno Le Maire quit his campaign in protest against his decision to fight on.
DEFECTIONS FROM FILLON CAMP
On Thursday, deputy campaign director Sebastien Lecornu and adviser Vincent Le Roux followed Le Maire's lead, along with a number of more junior campaign staff.
Three other high-ranking lawmakers from the left wing of the party - Benoist Apparu, Christophe Bechu and Edouard Philippe - also quit the Fillon cause, saying their decision was prompted by his repeated attacks on the judiciary.
Fillon, who has denied wrongdoing from the start over allegations his wife was paid for work she may not have done, nevertheless stepped up those attacks.
"I have been singled out by the judicial system. It's as if I had to be brought down at all costs," he said in an interview with the regional newspaper Midi Libre.
Fillon was reprimanded by President Francois Hollande on Wednesday for saying the judiciary was biased against him.
The 62 year-old ex prime minister is due to be questioned by investigating magistrates on March 15 with a view to being put under formal investigation. Supporters plan to organise a rally in Paris on Sunday backing his campaign and protesting at his treatment.
SPLIT OVER PUSH FOR JUPPE
Sources in the Fillon camp have said there was a strong push by some in the party on Wednesday to have former prime minister Alain Juppe stand in Fillon's place, but that the plan was vetoed by Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president.
The three lawmakers who quit on Thursday were all Juppe loyalists, and Georges Fenech, a lawmaker who led a failed rebellion against Fillon last month, confirmed on Thursday that he was among those wanting Juppe to stand in Fillon's place.
"Unhappily, I am convinced that Francois Fillon is about to fall," he told France Info radio. "It seems to me that today only he (Juppe), with all his experience, can carry the flame."
Juppe, 71, has insisted he has no interest in replacing Fillon.
(Reporting by Sophie Louet; Writing by Andrew Callus; editing by Mark John and Dominic Evans)