The electoral challenge of the far right is an enduringly problematic feature of contemporary French politics. In the first rounds of the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, the Front National (FN) under new leader Marine Le Pen attracted a combined total of ten million votes, bringing its ultra-nationalist policies to the centre of national political debate. This article examines the FN's impact on these elections and its implications for French politics. Drawing on official FN programmes, detailed election results and a range of opinion polling data, it assesses the strength of support for Le Pen and her party and seeks to explain their electoral appeal. In particular, it subjects to analysis the claim that the new leader has ‘de-demonised’ the FN, transforming it from perennial outsider to normal participant in mainstream French politics; and it reflects on the strategic dilemma posed for the centre-right by this newly invigorated far-right challenge.