France went to the polls for the first round of regional elections on Sunday that could see Marine Le Pen’s far-right party make gains and step further into the political mainstream. The election will see new assemblies elected for mainland France’s 13 regions and 96 departments, with Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) tipped to win at least one region for the first time in what would be a major coup. Le Pen is not standing as a candidate, but she has been campaigning hard ahead of presidential elections next year that surveys show could end up being a close race between her and centrist President Emmanuel Macron. “What would be great for her (Le Pen), and would spark some momentum in the pre-presidential campaign, would be if the National Rally won a region,” Stephane Zumsteeg from the Ipsos polling firm told AFP. Though far-right politicians preside over a handful of towns, running a region with a budget of billions of euros and powers over schools, transport and economic development would lend it the sort of legitimacy that Le Pen craves, analysts say. The one most likely to tip is the southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur — home to Marseille, Saint-Tropez and Cannes — where the RN is fronted by Thierry Mariani, a former minister who defected from the centre-right Republicans party. Voting began at 08:00 am (0600 GMT), with polls set to close between 06:00-08:00 pm nationally.