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EghtesadOnline: Polls Wednesday will provide the first indications of how much damage Francois Fillon’s bid to become French president is incurring from his deepening legal problems.

OpinionWay’s daily tracking poll, due for publication about midday, will include data from research conducted on Tuesday, when Fillon was charged with misuse of public funds over his wife’s allegedly fictitious job as a parliamentary aide. Ifop’s release at 6 p.m. should also include responses collected today, Bloomberg reported.

The 63-year-old former prime minister had tried to take the sting out of the probe into his family’s finances by acknowledging the likelihood of charges when he received a summons from investigative judges in Paris two weeks ago. He mounted a counter attack, denouncing the probe as a plot by his political opponents as he denied any wrongdoing.

The judges’ decision confirms the worst-case scenario for Fillon, who’s already promised to stay in the race whatever happens and faced down a rebellion of party officials seeking his ouster. So while the announcement means he will be forced onto the backfoot again on the campaign trail, Bruno Jeanbart, deputy director of pollsters OpinionWay, said voters have probably already factored the charges into their thinking.

“The damage has already been done,” Jeanbart said.

French bonds erased some of their losses after the news on Tuesday, with the extra yield investors demand to hold the country’s 10-year debt instead of their German equivalents narrowing 2 basis points to 64 basis points.

Macron Meets Merkel

Fillon isn’t due to return to the campaign trail until Thursday, when he speaks to a union in Paris, the same day that the front-runner Emmanuel Macron meets Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin -- the German leader bowing to political pragmatism, even though it means another snub to her center-right ally Fillon.

The next major date in the election is likely to be a televised debate March 20. While generally considered a good debater, Fillon will have to square his calls for cutting government spending and tightening up France’s welfare state with his own actions in putting his family on the public payroll.

“The debate could be decisive,” Jeanbart said. “The viewership will be huge this year.”

With less than six weeks to go before the first round of voting, Fillon is lying a distant third, suggesting he’d miss out on the May 7 run-off between independent Macron and the anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen. Macron is projected to beat Le Pen by about 20 percentage points in the final round.

Fillon started the year as favorite to be France’s next president but stumbled in mid-January after Le Canard Enchaine newspaper reported that he had employed his wife for years as a parliamentary assistant and that she had done little real work for total pay of almost 1 million euros ($1.1 million). His children had also been paid for work they may not have done, the newspaper has said.

Last month, prosecutors extended the probe and turned it over to investigative judge Serge Tournaire who sent a summons to the candidate within days, ordering his home to be searched by police investigators. The probe has also looked into the work Penelope Fillon did for a magazine owned by billionaire Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere, who is a friend of the Republican presidential candidate.

Party Support

In his statement to the magistrates, published online by Le Figaro newspaper, Fillon said there was ample evidence that his wife had helped manage his agenda, correspondence and contacts with local voters.

Fillon may yet escape a trial. But if judges do decide to dismiss the case in the end, that will probably happen after the election.

On Tuesday, lawmakers from Fillon’s party took to the Internet and the airwaves to show their support.

“No one is going to steal the change that the French people want,” southern lawmaker Eric Ciotti said on Twitter. “I can’t say I’m enthusiastic, but now it’s behind us and we can focus on the campaign,” lawmaker Philippe Gosselin from the north-west said on BFM television.

France presidential election Francois Fillon