Merkel Party Wins State Vote as Re-Election Momentum Gains

  • German chancellor’s Christian Democrats defeat SPD incumbent
  • Attention now turns to bigger state election next Sunday

Angela Merkel’s party convincingly defeated the Social Democratic incumbent in a state vote in northern Germany, in a disastrous result for her SPD challenger that provides further evidence the chancellor is regaining momentum ahead of the federal election in September.

The victory gives Merkel’s Christian Democrats a boost heading into elections next weekend in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, an SPD-run region with almost 18 million people and the main bellwether before the national vote. It’s also the home state of Martin Schulz, the SPD’s candidate for chancellor who’s out to deny Merkel a fourth term in office.

“This is a disaster for the SPD,” Carsten Nickel, a Brussels-based analyst for Teneo Intelligence, said by phone. “The SPD doesn’t know whether it wants to move toward the center or move its base on the left. Merkel is doing very well in using this situation to her advantage.”

Sunday’s voting in Schleswig-Holstein, a region of 2.8 million between the Baltic and North seas, underscored that the SPD surge sparked by Schulz’s nomination in January has petered out for now. The CDU took more than 33 percent, a gain of 2.5 percentage points over the last state election in 2011, while the SPD slumped about 4 points to 26.5 percent, according to ARD television projections based on partial returns.

“This is a sad election night for the SPD,” Schulz told reporters in Berlin. “It gets under your skin and makes us sad. It’s a great success for the CDU.”

Next Ballot

With polls in North Rhine-Westphalia showing the race between CDU and SPD too close to call, pressure on the Social Democrats to avoid another defeat will grow. National surveys now put Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc ahead by as many as 8 percentage points.

In Schleswig-Holstein, the SPD-Green government was voted out as the Social Democrats declined more than pre-election polls had forecast. The Greens took about 13 percent, the Free Democrats 11 percent and the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany about 6 percent, according to the projections. The result opens up a range of possibilities, including another SPD-led government including the Free Democrats, or a new CDU-led alliance.

“Nobody predicted that we would be the strongest force so clearly,” Michael Grosse-Broemer, the CDU whip in the national parliament, told ARD television. Like every win, “it gives you motivation.”

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