Merkel Pivots to General Election With Boost From Regional Votes

  • Chancellor seeking fourth term as German leader on Sept. 24
  • SPD challenger Schulz sees ‘rocky road’ ahead after losses

Merkel Buoyed by German Local Vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined campaign themes for her re-election bid in September as she seeks to harness her party’s revived momentum, saying she’ll help Europe’s biggest economy innovate to stay competitive.

Fresh from a key state election victory for her Christian Democratic Union, Merkel sought to set the tone for the federal vote on Sept. 24 by suggesting it will turn in part on who has the better program for creating the jobs of the future.

“A new phase is beginning and we’re aware that it’s an effort of a completely different nature,” Merkel told reporters on Monday in Berlin. The campaign “will be mainly about concepts for the future,” including the digital economy, education and research, she said. “We can’t just rest on the situation as it is now.”

Written off last year for her open-border stance on refugees, Merkel is clawing back when it counts. Her party’s election victory in Germany’s most populous state on Sunday highlights her pull among voters as Merkel vows to hold the European Union together, defends free trade and rebuffs President Donald Trump’s pressure to accelerate defense spending. Merkel later on Monday is hosting French President Emmanuel Macron for their first meeting after his inauguration.

With three consecutive CDU victories in state election since March, Merkel heads toward the summer with a tailwind. An early-2017 surge for Social Democratic candidate Martin Schulz has faded, and national polls put Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc ahead of the SPD by as many as 10 percentage points.

Schulz’s chances of becoming chancellor still “seem material” given that he already energized his party’s voters once, Ricardo Garcia, a European economist at UBS, said in a research note. Still, “there is little evidence” of voter fatigue related to Merkel even though she’s been in office for 12 years, he said.

Schulz, who’s challenging Merkel on a platform of greater income equality, saw his party defeated in his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday in the last test before the national ballot.

“We have a long, rocky road ahead of us until the federal election,” Schulz, 61, told supporters in Berlin on Monday. “But we’re a party that’s steeled in battle. We’re confident because we believe we have the better program, the right program for the future.”

Support for the SPD in North Rhine-Westphalia fell to 31.2 percent, the lowest since World War II in a traditional stronghold, while the Christian Democrats took 33 percent, a gain of 6.7 percentage points, according to official results. In an echo of Merkel’s second-term coalition at the national level, the CDU can now form a state government with the pro-market Free Democrats, who surged 4 points to 12.6 percent.

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