October 20, 2015 / 2:04 PM / 2 years ago

From cows to drug busts - France's Hollande broadens message in hunt for votes

PARIS, Oct 20 (Reuters) - From hunters to police officers, French President Francois Hollande is broadening his charm offensive among voters to include groups not normally associated with his ruling Socialists ahead of elections the party is expected to lose.

Hollande, rated the most unpopular president in French polling history, played up his rustic roots and love of France's "amazing landscapes" in an unlikely interview for a popular monthly hunters' magazine due to be published on Wednesday.

"I've always lived with cows in the fields," Hollande told Le Chasseur Francais (The French Hunter), while reminiscing about his childhood growing up in rural Normandy.

"When I was a child I used to go every morning to pick up milk at the farm next door," he said in the interview for the 130-year-old magazine which boasts about 260,000 subscribers.

Hollande celebrated the "enthusiasm" of France's hunters, who are estimated to number about one million, discussed the problems caused by wild boars and promised an annual review of the number of wolves that can be shot.

His overture to the hunters came shortly after a visit by the president to police near Paris to congratulate them on a drugs bust involving more than seven tonnes of cannabis.

Hollande held a press conference on Sunday to display the haul and praise the efforts of law enforcement services, four days after thousands of police staged a rare protest to complain of a lack of resources.

Painfully aware of his party's languishing in third place behind the conservatives and the far-right in opinion polls for December regional elections, Hollande also gave a one-hour radio interview on Monday and was due to visit underprivileged suburbs in Paris on Tuesday.

Hollande's own mandate ends in 2017 and opinion polls currently suggest he will not hang on to his job.

In his interview for the hunters' magazine, he urged its readers not to vote for the far-right National Front.

"I understand the feeling of isolation and abandonment that some of out compatriots in the countryside feel," he said, while warning against a vote "that is a danger for the cohesion of our country."

Pollsters said Hollande's efforts to identify with the concerns of ordinary people were unlikely to revive his party's fortunes before the regional elections.

"The roots of unpopularity are much deeper, this cannot be reversed with such initiatives," the head of Ipsos pollsters, Brice Teinturier, said.

"What we don't know is how big the (Socialists') defeat will be." (Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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