German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right party won a state election by a 10-point margin Sunday in an early setback to center-left hopes of unseating her in the September national vote.
Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) easily beat the Social Democrats (SPD) in Saarland State, although a tighter race was expected after the Social Democrats were boosted in polls by nominating Martin Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament.
The SPD was facing its first electoral test since nominating Schulz in January to challenge Merkel, who is expected to run for a fourth term as chancellor in September’s national elections.
Armin Laschet, a senior member of CDU said the conservatives' unexpectedly strong win in Saarland, a tiny state on the French border with a population of only one million, gives them “tail wind” for bigger upcoming elections.
Laschet told ZDF television Monday that “everything that was said about the Schulz train rolling over everything and changing everything didn't come true.”
According to political analysts, the Saarland governor's popularity apparently made the difference Sunday.
chulz conceded it was “not a nice evening” and that “the CDU clearly won” but insisted that “our goal is a change of federal government” this year, calling the campaign until then “a marathon, not a sprint."
The anti-immigration and right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won six percent of the votes, which means it is now represented in 11 of Germany's 16 state assemblies.