Merkel's party wins vote in rivals' German heartland

Merkel's party seeks decisive victory in bellwether state vote

Martin Schulz, chairman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Chancellor candidate for the upcoming general election.

While Schulz now holds no public office besides SPD chief and thus has no natural platform beyond the stump, Merkel'office provides her with the best stage to burnish her reputation as Germany's Stabilitätsanker (anchor of stability) in an unstable world.

In the run-up to Sunday's vote, Schulz had held more than 30 rallies in the state, where he began his political career in his hometown of Wuerselen.

"We suffered a hard moment last night", said Schulz today at the SPD's headquarters.

"This is a great day for North Rhine-Westphalia", said local CDU leader Armin Laschet, who will most likely become state premier.

Another scandal that affected the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2016 was a terrorist attack that took place in Berlin on December 19, when a truck rammed into people at a Christmas market in the center of Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48 more.

Sunday's election was the last before the national vote.

North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's biggest regional economy, has tripped up the Social Democrats before.

However, Merkel's victory indicates that her charm offensive to win over new supported in the regions ahead of September's Bundestag election has already gained traction.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) won 33% of the vote in North Rhine-Westphalia's state election on Sunday, official projections showed.

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Christian Leye, the Left Party's top candidate in the state, noted that "the Schulz train derailed in North Rhine-Westphalia".

The region of 17.9 million, nearly a quarter of Germany's population, includes Cologne, Dusseldorf and the Ruhr industrial region.

"There was no tailwind from Mr. Schulz that could have balanced that out", he said. "It's sad we lost so many districts".

The shock result comes four months before the German federal election, with polls showing the Social Democrats trailing CDU by up to 10 points after drawing level earlier this year.

The AfD secured 7.6 per cent of the vote on Sunday meaning the party is now represented in 13 of Germany's parliaments.

She had urged voters to look at her government's economic record, noting that with 7.5 per cent unemployment, the state fares worse than the national rate of 5.8 per cent.

Another option for Laschet is a tie-up with his party's traditional allies, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), a coalition which would have a thin parliamentary majority. The CDU won 34.5 percent, up from 26.3 percent in 2012, according to an exit poll on public broadcaster ARD just after polls closed.

That would mirror Merkel's national government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior partners.

The March victory prompted President Trump to place a congratulatory call to Merkel just nine days after they had talked about the state elections at the White House.

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