Merkel Vows to Fight for Re-Election After German State Win

  • CDU gains in German state vote, damping SPD’s Schulz euphoria
  • Long way to denying Merkel fourth term, Teneo’s Nickel says

German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to fight hard to win a fourth term in September after an unexpectedly clear state election victory, and left the door open to changing her coalition partner after the national vote.

Merkel, at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy for almost 12 years, said she expects a tough campaign even after her Christian Democratic Union kept its hold on the western state of Saarland, Germany’s second-smallest state, in an election on Sunday.

“We’ve seen from yesterday’s results that we still have a lot of work to do in the six months ahead,” Merkel told reporters on Monday in Berlin. “But yesterday was a beautiful day and therefore an encouraging day.”

Angela Merkel and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on March 27.

Photographer: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

The biggest win for the CDU in the state in 13 years provided a reality check for Martin Schulz, who has led the Social Democratic Party back into contention after it chose him as Merkel’s main challenger. The SPD’s defeat followed a late CDU surge, based partly on raising the specter of an SPD-led state government including the anti-capitalist, anti-NATO Left party.

Merkel doubled down on Monday, saying she would consider governing with any party except the Left or the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany if her CDU-led bloc wins on Sept. 24.

‘Distance Races’

“For Merkel, this is a positive start into the election year and should help to calm the mood within her alliance of Christian parties,” said Carsten Nickel, a risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in Brussels. “The SPD will recognize that it is still a long way to taking over the chancellery in September.”

Polls in two states holding elections in May show the CDU trailing the SPD, offering Schulz a possible boost before the national campaign’s endgame in August and September. They include Schulz’s home state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous region.

“Election campaigns are distance races, not sprints,” Schulz told supporters at SPD headquarters in Berlin. “That’s addressed to all of those who are happy today, understandably from their point of view, but who shouldn’t celebrate too soon.”

Merkel’s CDU took 40.7 percent of the Saarland vote on Sunday, a gain of 5.5 percentage points over 2012 that beat pollsters’ predictions. The SPD declined 1 point to 29.6 percent and the Left dropped more than 3 points to 12.9 percent.

Merkel said the result showed that voters preferred the state’s CDU-SPD “grand coalition,” which mirrors her national government. However, “that statement doesn’t prejudice possible future constellations” at the federal level, she said.

— With assistance by Rainer Buergin

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