The Latest: Germany's Schulz concedes 'stinging defeat'
Posted May 14
BERLIN — The Latest on the election Sunday in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (all times local):
Chancellor Angela Merkel's challenger in Germany's September election, Martin Schulz, is conceding that his party suffered a "really stinging defeat" in Sunday's vote in its western German heartland.
Schulz saw his center-left Social Democrats slump to its third state election defeat this year in North Rhine-Westphalia — his home state and a traditional stronghold.
Schulz told supporters in Berlin: "This is a difficult day for the Social Democrats, a difficult day for me personally as well. I come from the state in which we took a really stinging defeat today."
But he urged the party to concentrate now on the national election Sept. 24. He said that "we will sharpen our profile further — we have to as well."
Exit polls indicate that Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have beaten their center-left rivals in an election in Germany's most populous state.
North Rhine-Westphalia is a traditional stronghold of the center-left Social Democrats, and the projected outcome is a serious blow to Merkel's challenger in the national election in September, Martin Schulz.
Exit polls for ARD and ZDF public television Sunday showed Merkel's Christian Democrats beating the Social Democrats by 34.5 percent to 30.5 percent. They give the Greens — the junior coalition partners in the outgoing state government, only 6 percent, meaning that the coalition would lose its majority.
Support for the pro-business Free Democrats was running at 12 percent and the nationalist Alternative for Germany at 7.5 percent — giving the latter seats in its 13th state legislature.
An election in Germany's most populous state is serving as a prelude to September's national vote. It could give conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel new momentum in her quest for a fourth term — or offer her center-left challenger some relief.
The pressure is on the Social Democrats, led by challenger Martin Schulz, in the election Sunday for the state legislature in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is Schulz's home territory, though he isn't on the ballot, and home to 17.9 million people, nearly a quarter of Germany's population.
The western state, which includes Cologne, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr industrial region, has been led by the Social Democrats for all but five years since 1966.
However, polls ahead of the vote — the last test at the ballot box before Germany's national election on Sept. 24 — now show the Social Democrats neck-and-neck with Merkel's Christian Democrats.
A defeat for center-left governor Hannelore Kraft in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia state would be a major blow for the Social Democrats after poor showings in two previous state elections.
Last weekend, they were beaten by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party in Schleswig-Holstein in Germany's far north.
Merkel's conservatives in North Rhine-Westphalia, led by challenger Armin Laschet, a liberal-minded deputy leader of the Christian Democrats, have little to lose in Sunday's vote after a dreadful showing five years ago.
They have sought to portray Kraft's state government as slack on security and also criticized its handling of education and infrastructure projects.
Kraft's coalition partners, the Greens, are polling badly and chances of their alliance keeping its majority look poor. The pro-business Free Democrats, eyeing a return to the national parliament in September after they were ejected in 2013, look set for a strong performance.