* Half Scottish regional leader seen as potential Merkel
* McAllister needs FDP bounce to retain power in Lower
* Campaign features bagpipes, giant "Mac" posters
By Stephen Brown
BERLIN, Jan 15 An election on Sunday in
Germany's second-biggest state will be a crucial test of
Chancellor Angela Merkel's chances of winning a third term in
It will also showcase the man who may prove best-placed to
succeed her as leader of the CDU, the country's biggest
conservative party - and possibly even as chancellor.
David McAllister, the West Berlin-raised son of a Scottish
soldier and a German mother, became premier of Lower Saxony by
default in 2010 when his predecessor Christian Wulff was
hand-picked by Merkel for the ceremonial post of president.
On Sunday, the photogenic 42-year-old known as "Mac" has a
chance to win his first big election and consolidate his status
as star of a new generation of Christian Democrats jostling to
take over from the popular Merkel once she releases her grip on
"McAllister is definitely in the small circle of CDU leaders
from which the conservatives will pick their next chancellor
candidate," said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at
Berlin's Free University.
"If he succeeds in leading the CDU to a respectable result
in Lower Saxony, despite all the difficulties they've faced
there, then he will automatically be considered a top candidate
to succeed Merkel."
Merkel, who turned on her own mentor Helmut Kohl when he was
engulfed in a party funding scandal, has seen off a series of
male would-be rivals herself. Others have shot themselves in the
foot while waiting for her to falter.
Last year Wulff quit as president over a personal finances
scandal and "princeling" Norbert Roettgen lost his cabinet post
after an election rout in the North Rhine-Westphalia region.
McAllister, it seems, has learned from their mistakes.
Rejecting the glitzy style of his former mentor Wulff, he tries
to project sobriety like Merkel.
He has ruled out abandoning the sleepy state capital Hanover
for the bright lights of Berlin if he loses on Jan. 20 -
avoiding the mistake that cost Roettgen his job.
"My place is in Lower Saxony," says McAllister.
EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF
Such patience could earn him the nomination in 2017 when
Merkel's term would expire if she wins the federal election in
September, as polls suggest.
McAllister is the most popular politician in Lower Saxony,
far ahead of his Socialist SPD rival in the election, Hanover
mayor Stephan Weil. This has helped the CDU build a comfortable
6-8 point lead over the SPD but is no guarantee of victory.
If McAllister's Free Democrat (FDP) coalition allies fail to
win the 5 percent necessary to make it into the state assembly,
he could be ousted on Sunday by the SPD and Greens.
Despite that, McAllister has resisted calls to ask CDU
voters to split their tickets to help the FDP, while sending
subtle hints that he would welcome a boost for his partner.
On Tuesday he told local radio: "I'm expecting them to get
into the local assembly under their own steam. In an election it
is every man for himself."
The latest surveys suggest the FDP could yet make it in,
giving McAllister a shot at a dramatic come-from-behind victory
that would boost Merkel's chances of re-election eight months
from now and burnish his own reputation.
An admirer of Prime Minister David Cameron and his drive to
modernise Britain's Conservatives, McAllister echoes Merkel's
reformist ideas for the CDU, including more radical ones like
ditching nuclear power and backing a minimum legal wage.
In return for his loyalty, Merkel is making almost daily
appearances in the last week of campaigning in Lower Saxony.
The SPD has no such luxury: its candidate for chancellor,
Peer Steinbrueck, is so unpopular that McAllister jokes that he
should campaign in Lower Saxony "as much as possible".
MAC'S PERSONALITY CULT
With four in 10 of Lower Saxony's just over 6 million voters
still undecided, the "I'm a Mac" campaign - complete with
bagpipes, giant posters and the jingle "Our chieftain is a
Scot/We're a tough clan" - is betting on McAllister's boyish
charm so much the SPD has dubbed it "a Cuban-style personality
This too mirrors a national trend where support for the CDU
lags far behind Merkel's own popularity, thanks partly to a
consensus-driven style that McAllister emulates. He talks about
"cross-party" solutions to ensure top-quality education,
economic growth and financial stability in Lower Saxony.
Just as Merkel cites the mythically thrifty "Swabian
housewife" as a model, McAllister plays with his Scottish
heritage and his countrymen's reputation for fiscal tightness.
If he delivers on his goal to balance the state budget by
2017, he says, it will be the first time since British
occupation in 1946 under Sir Gordon Nevil Macready - another
McAllister describes himself as "reliable, engaged and
well-informed. With a touch of British understatement".
Although he plays up his roots by donning a kilt or tossing
the caber - a Highland sport involving throwing a giant wooden
pole - he has impeccable credentials as a German conservative.
He attended a German boarding school, did military service
in a Panzer battalion and studied law under a CDU scholarship.
"I'm a German citizen and I have lived here in Germany all
my life. So Germany is my home," he told Reuters Television in