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Merkel Hopes to Win Bellwether State Vote

Merkel Hopes to Win Bellwether State VoteMerkel Hopes to Win Bellwether State Vote

Voters in Germany’s most populous state are going to the polls in an election with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party hoping to deal a crushing blow to her main rival four months before national elections.

About 13.1 million eligible voters in North Rhine-Westphalia will cast ballots to elect a new regional parliament for the sprawling industrial region, which has a large migrant population and has been a Social Democratic Party stronghold for decades, the German news website Local.de reported

But surveys ahead of the vote show the center-left party running neck-and-neck with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, with some even placing the CDU ahead.

The surveys were the latest indication that initial enthusiasm for the new SPD leader, Martin Schulz, could be fizzling out.

The SPD had been ailing nationwide but saw a surge in support in February when Schulz took over. That support failed, however, to translate into votes in the last two state elections, when the CDU won comfortably.

An election in Germany’s biggest state is always significant, but it carries higher stakes this year, being the last regional vote before national polls and having a direct impact on whether the SPD can close the gap nationwide with the CDU.

In the runup to Sunday’s vote, Schulz held more than 30 rallies in the state where he began his political career in his hometown of Wuerselen.

The party is banking its hopes on incumbent state premier Hannelore Kraft, 55, who secured 39.1% in a 2012 vote, while the CDU clinched just over 26%.

“If Kraft succeeds, then the chances of the SPD’s bid to take back the chancellery grow. If she loses, it would mean that the Schulz train has slammed against a wall,” the weekly Spiegel magazine said.

Political analyst Oskar Niedermayer also noted the state’s significance to the SPD, telling AFP that “a defeat there would be a disastrous symbol” for the party.

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