January 19, 2013 / 6:21 PM / in 5 years

Merkel's CDU rides popularity wave in German state vote

BERLIN, Jan 19 (Reuters) - The leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Lower Saxony on Saturday predicted victory in a close-run regional election that will gauge Merkel’s chances of winning a third term.

A win on Sunday for State Premier David McAllister would end two years of poor results for the Christian Democrats (CDU) in state elections and galvanize Merkel’s re-election campaign ahead of a federal vote due in the autumn.

“It was a difficult campaign, a passionate campaign, and to the end it has been a neck-and-neck race, but I‘m very sure we will win tomorrow,” said McAllister, the 42-year-old son of a British soldier and a German mother.

A survey this week by pollster GMS put the CDU and their Free Democrat (FDP) allies in a dead-heat with Social Democrat (SPD) and Green rivals in the northern region. Some 42 percent of voters were still undecided.

The CDU, on 41 percent, led the SPD on 33 percent in the GMS poll, after Merkel’s conservatives lagged their rivals in the middle of last year. McAllister has played up his Scottish roots in his “I‘m a Mac” campaign - complete with bagpipes and the jingle “Our chieftain is a Scot/We’re a tough clan”

The SPD dubbed it “a Cuban-style personality cult”.

The CDU’s campaign has also made use of Merkel’s personal popularity in Germany due to her handling of the euro zone debt crisis, as well as focussing on issues such as education.

McAllister, carrying out last-minute campaigning on snowy streets, said momentum would carry him to another term. His coalition partners in the FDP should secure enough support to meet the 5 percent threshold needed for assembly seats, keeping his centre-right government in power, he said.

The vote in Lower Saxony, Germany’s second-largest state by area, is considered a must win for the SPD if they are to have any hope of unseating Merkel and recovering from a disastrous start to their national election campaign by gaffe-prone chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck.

Steinbrueck was also campaigning in Lower Saxony on Saturday. Both he and FDP leader Philipp Roesler could find themselves in trouble if their parties have a poor showing.

Roesler, who has proved unpopular with the public and has failed to inject new dynamism into his flagging party, would be under pressure to resign if the party fails to win assembly seats or just scrapes the 5 percent figure in Lower Saxony.

The latest national poll by Infratest dimap published on Friday gave the CDU a 16-point lead over the SPD with 42 percent, but saw the FDP on 4 percent and as such unable to enter parliament. This would complicate Merkel’s re-election chances and leave her in search of an alternative partner.

The GMS poll put the Greens on 13 percent in Lower Saxony.

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