Merkel's party secures key victory in bellwether state vote

Angela Merkel's main challenger in the upcoming German election has conceded his party has suffered a "really stinging defeat" in North Rhine-Westphalia as it lost its third consecutive state vote.

A ZDF public broadcaster poll showed the CDU is at 32 percent and closely followed by SPD with 31 percent.

The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany entered its 13 state parliament on Sunday winning 7.5 percent of the vote in North Rhine-Westphalia.

But poor showings in two previous state elections since then had already punctured the party's euphoria over Schulz's nomination.

In power here for most of the postwar period, the SPD were decimated, losing almost 10% of their vote as Angela Merkel's CDU soared.

Interior minister of North-Rhine-Westphalia Ralf Jaeger addresses a press conference to announce the suspension of Cologne's police chief on Januar 8, 2015 in Cologne, western Germany.

In the state's last election in 2012, the Social Democrats beat the CDU by 39.1 percent to 26.3 percent.

"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.

Within minutes of the polls closing, the state's governor resigned, saying she took "personal responsibility for the defeat".

In the state's May 2005 election, the CDU managed to unseat the SPD, prompting a snap federal election that the conservatives won, granting Merkel her first term as chancellor.

About 13.1 million eligible voters in North Rhine-Westphalia are casting 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 (SPD) stronghold for decades.

Martin Schulz said Monday that "until the general election on September 24 we have a long and stony road ahead of us".

"We have spoken a lot about security on the streets", Armin Laschet, CDU leader to North Rhine -Westphalia told CNBC Monday, remarking on his party's new success. They gave the Greens — the junior coalition partners in the outgoing state government, only 6 percent.

The projections put support for the pro-business Free Democrats, who are eyeing a return to the national parliament at September, at a strong 12%.

The definitive star of the SPD's campaign in NRW is state premier Hannelore Kraft, who remains popular with voters despite displeasure with her party. It is also the home state of Martin Schulz, the Social Democratic challenger seeking to deny Merkel a fourth term in the September 24 national election- though he wasn't on the ballot Sunday.

She also urged voters to look at her government's economic record - with 7.5 percent unemployment, the state fares worse than the national rate of 5.8 percent, she said. The SPD has ruled NRW for 46 of the last 51 years.

The SPD has rejected the option of ruling with the Greens and the Left, a party that has also been rejected as partners by the Conservatives.

  • Zachary Reyes