Merkel's party wins in key state vote, exit polls show

It could give conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel new momentum in her quest for a fourth term - or offer her center-left challenger some relief.

"Merkel has proved it to all them again: to all the naggers and doubters, all the nervous lads from her own ranks, who - after the refugee crisis and the electoral defeats previous year - already predicted the Union's decline".

The pressure will also be on for her adversary Martin Schulz who could see his dream of becoming chancellor already in tatters.

"I've heard the criticism of people who say 'you're nice, but you have to get more specific.' And that's what I plan to do", Schulz told CNN affiliate ARD.

"This is a great day for North Rhine-Westphalia", said the CDU's top candidate, Armin Laschet (pictured above), who will most likely become the next state premier.

Germen Chancellor Merkel's party beat its rival Social Democrats in their stronghold in North Rhine-Westphalia, Deutsche Welle reported.

"Incumbents are certainly not safe - incumbents can lose", said Thomas Oppermann, the party's national parliamentary leader.

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

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

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

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Merkel's party scored a similar upset win over a Social Democrats-Greens coalition in the rural northern state of Schleswig-Holstein on May 7 after pulling off an unexpectedly strong win in the small state of Saarland, on the French border, on March 26.

The Christian Democratic Union's victory in North Rhine-Westphalia, home to more than a fifth of German voters, is a resounding confirmation for Merkel, 62.

Schulz allies sought to take comfort in the fact that the defeat of North Rhine-Westphalia's Social Democratic governor, Hannelore Kraft, was unexpected until recently.

The business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), looking to re-enter the German parliament this fall, came in third in NRW, taking 12.6 percent of the vote, a significant increase compared to 2012.

The NRW, which encompasses major cities, including Cologne and Dusseldorf, as well as the Ruhr industrial region, has been mostly ruled by the center-left Social Democrat (SPD) Party for more than half a century.

"We need more police to secure the security of the people but we want as well to lead a country of integration".

That would make it hard for the SPD to muster another coalition, especially as their natural partners, the hard-left Die Linke, are also on just 6 per cent.

The SPD vote slumped from 39.1 percent in the last election in 2012 to just 31.1 percent yesterday.

And the nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, hopes to enter its 13th state legislature - though its popularity appears to have faded as the migrant influx has receded and the party has been rent by infighting.

  • Adam Floyd