BERLIN Aug 22 Germany's conservative Christian
Democrats will focus their TV advertising campaign on Chancellor
Angela Merkel while the opposition Social Democrats put ordinary
people in their ads and all but ignore their struggling
candidate, Peer Steinbrueck.
The rival parties kicked off the final month of campaigning
for the Sept. 22 election by presenting strikingly different TV
strategies on Thursday. Merkel's conservatives hold a 16-point
lead over the SPD in opinion polls but her centre-right
coalition may fall short of a majority.
"Germany is in good shape and we can't allow that to be put
at risk," Merkel calmly intones in the central message of the
90-second advert, which includes unusual high-definition
close-ups of the 59-year-old leader.
"Higher taxes and other burdens wouldn't be good for
Germany," the chancellor adds, indirectly attacking plans by the
SPD and their Greens allies to raise taxes on high wage earners.
TV ads play a much smaller role in German campaigns than in
countries like the United States but can give clues to parties'
strategies, as well as trying to make sure each side's own
supporters get out and vote on election day.
They are broadcast eight times for free in prime time by the
big public networks, ARD and ZDF, and more than 100 times on
private networks. The SPD ads begin airing on Thursday evening
and the conservatives next Monday.
"It's a film about Germany, about our country's future and
what's good for us," said CDU campaign manager Hermann Groehe,
dismissing criticism that the ads ignore the party while zooming
in for uncomfortable close-ups of the chancellor.
"I like seeing the close-up shots of her," Groehe added
after repeatedly screening the ads featuring Merkel's face.
The conservatives, who have suffered a string of regional
election defeats in recent years, pin their hopes on Merkel. Her
steady leadership in the euro crisis, when she has conditioned
help for struggling nations on tough economic reforms, has been
the cornerstone for her popularity in Germany.
By contrast, the SPD opts to keep its unpopular candidate
off screen for most of its ad. Instead, ordinary working people
at locations around Germany stand at a red lectern with "SPD" on
it, explaining the issues that are important for them.
One man demands the introduction of a minimum wage, another
attacks bank bailouts, another expresses fears of worsening
old-age poverty while one woman complains about the growing gap
in medical care between rich and poor.
"Peer Steinbrueck didn't want to be the focal point of our
ads," said SPD general secretary Andreas Nahles. "He explicitly
wanted these ads to be about regular people and their genuine
concerns. None of these people were cast. They're all real."
(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Stephen Brown)