Hollande edges past Sarkozy, both advance to French runoff

France's Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande (left) and France's incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande won the first round of the French presidential vote on April 22, 2012, setting himself up for a May 6, 2012 run-off with the right-wing incumbent Sarkozy. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

Last Updated 4:53 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) PARIS - Socialist candidate Francois Hollande and France's conservative incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy are headed for a runoff in their race for the presidency, according to partial official results, in a vote that could alter the European political and economic landscape.

With 75 percent of the vote counted, Hollande had 27.9 percent of ballots cast and Sarkozy 26.7 percent, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry after final polls closed.

Defying expectations, the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim candidate Marine Le Pen landed a significant third-place showing, with 19.2 percent of the vote so far.

Ten candidates were competing in Sunday's first round of voting in what was seen as a referendum on the incumbent Sarkozy, at a time when many French voters are worried about high joblessness and weak economic prospects.

In fourth place was leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon with 10.8 percent, followed by centrist Francois Bayrou with 9.2 percent. Five others won minimal support.

Turnout was also surprisingly high, projected by polling agencies at about 80 percent, despite concern that a campaign lacking a single overarching theme had failed to inspire voters.

The top two vote-getters head to a May 6 runoff May 6.

Hollande, a 57-year-old who has worried investors with his pledges to boost government spending, pledged to cut France's huge debts, boost growth and unite the French after Sarkozy's divisive first term.

"Tonight I become the candidate of all the forces who want to turn one page and turn another," Hollande, with a confidence and stately air he has often lacked during the campaign, told an exuberant crowd in his hometown of Tulle in southern France.

Sarkozy said he recognized voters' concerns about jobs and immigration, and "the concern of our compatriots to preserve their way of life," he told supporters at his campaign headquarters in Paris' Left Bank.

The race is on now to sway Le Pen's voters for the decisive second round. Le Pen herself told AP last week that she was not going to give instructions to her voters.

While Sarkozy has borrowed some of her anti-immigrant rhetoric and campaign themes of national identity, Le Pen has repeatedly criticized Sarkozy and says he is a has-been with no chance of returning to office.

The Socialist camp — not a natural ally for Le Pen — reached out to her voters after Sunday's result.

"We also have to think of those who are angry," because they feel forgotten and humiliated by Sarkozy's first term, Socialist Party chief Martine Aubry said.

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