Merkel's conservatives suffer losses in state votes

BERLIN Sun Aug 30, 2009 12:09pm EDT

Bodo Ramelow top candidate of the left-wing party 'Die Linke' in the federal state elections of Thuringia, reacts in his party headquarters in the eastern German city of Erfurt August 30, 2009. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Bodo Ramelow top candidate of the left-wing party 'Die Linke' in the federal state elections of Thuringia, reacts in his party headquarters in the eastern German city of Erfurt August 30, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's party suffered losses in regional elections on Sunday, exit polls showed, a disappointment for her conservatives one month before she seeks re-election in a federal vote.

In the state of Saarland, on the French border, and in Thuringia, in the ex-communist east, Christian Democrat (CDU) leaders who have ruled for a decade saw their support slump to 34.5 percent and 32.5 percent, respectively, and could be unseated by leftist coalitions.

In a third regional vote in the eastern state of Saxony, Merkel's party looked poised to retain power, as expected.

The three state elections were seen as key tests of sentiment in the run-up to the September 27 federal vote.

Merkel's conservatives hold a comfortable 12-15 point lead in national polls over their main rivals, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), and a weekend opinion survey showed 87 percent of Germans expect her to win a second term.

But the SPD could get a boost from the state votes and any erosion in Merkel's support over the coming weeks might endanger her hopes of sealing a center-right government with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) next month.

(Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

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