Merkel’s CDU hoping for win in key state vote
HANOVER (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are hoping for victory in a state contest on Sunday that could end a long losing streak and set the tone for September’s federal election.
Citizens in the northern state of Lower Saxony will beginvoting at 8am on Sunday (0700 GMT) in what has been a riveting battle between Merkel’s centre-right coalition and the centre-left Social Democrat-Greens opposition.
Led by state premier David McAllister, the CDU and their Free Democrat (FDP) allies have drawn even in opinion polls with their opponents, each on 46 per cent, even though the centre-right trailed by 13 points in voter surveys through mid-2012.
“The winds in Lower Saxony have turned and you can feel that everywhere you go,” McAllister told German TV after a rally. First projections are expected once polls close at 6pm and preliminary results are due within an hour.
Merkel, the most popular politician in Germany thanks to her handling of the euro zone debt crisis, hopes a victory for the centre-right in Lower Saxony, an industrial and farming heartland, would give her re-election campaign a boost ahead of the September federal vote.
The comeback in Lower Saxony has turned Germany’s fourth-most populous state – a genuine swing state – into a ferocious battleground with Merkel appearing seven times to campaign with McAllister, the West Berlin-raised son of a British soldier.
McAllister, known as “Mac”, has played up his Scottish roots in his campaign, which has featured bagpipes and the jingle “Our chieftain is a Scot. We’re a tough clan”.
The SPD and the Greens, who had long been comfortably ahead of the centre-right incumbents in polls, have watched in horror as their lead evaporated. Local SPD leader Stephan Weil has been hurt by gaffe-prone SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck.