The far-right National Front, the front-runner in the first round of the regional vote, was crushed in Sunday’s second round.
Despite the defeat, the leader of the anti-immigrant party still has her sights set on the French presidency.
Marine Le Pen hopes to capitalise on fears over Islamic extremism and a surge of migrants into Europe, and on the political horse-trading that went on between conservatives and Socialists in the run-up to the regional elections.
The Socialists withdrew their candidates from two regions where Le Pen and her niece were running and asked their supporters to vote for their conservative rival to prevent the National Front from scoring symbolic wins.
This has left the Socialists totally absent from the councils in those two regions. They have also lost the Paris region, which conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse won.
The official results of the regional elections put the conservative party ahead with 40.2% of the votes nationwide.
The results from Sunday’s vote put the Socialist party in second with 28.9%, and the far-right National Front in third with 27.1%.
The conservatives took control of seven of France’s 13 regions, while the Socialist party won in five regions. The winner in Corsica was not affiliated with a major party.
The National Front won its largest number of votes in an election with a total of 6.8m, better than Le Pen’s performance in the 2012 presidential race. The party has extended its influence with more than 350 councilors on regional councils.
“Of course, Marine Le Pen can win a presidential election,” National Front vice president Florian Philippot said on RTL radio yesterday. “We are making progress.”
Philippot was defeated on Sunday in the eastern Alsace region.
The conservative candidate for the presidential election will be chosen in a primary election in November 2016.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy is considered one of the favorites, but he is facing high-profile competitors.
Among them is former prime minister Francois Fillon, who pledged yesterday to give the French “a real political alternative... based on a precise, serious, credible programme that would be an agenda of rupture, of radical change”.
Both the conservatives and the Socialists expect Le Pen to be present in the presidential election’s second round — and believe a duel against her could be their best chance to win.