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Merz more popular than Merkel protege Kramp-Karrenbauer: poll

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - More German voters would like to see Friedrich Merz as head of the ruling center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) than current leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, protege of Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to a survey published on Sunday.

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Merz, championed by veteran conservative and former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, is popular with CDU members who want to move its economic and migration policies further to the right.

Some 31% of respondents favored him as party leader and potential successor to Merkel when she steps down before the next election in 2021, against 19% for Kramp-Karrenbauer, in the Emnid poll carried out for Sunday’s Bild newspaper.

A year ago, Kramp-Karrenbauer, who beat Merz in a CDU leadership election last December, outscored Merz by 33% to 28% in the same survey.

With the economy slowing and Kramp-Karrenbauer not gaining the hoped-for traction, all is not going well for the CDU; last Sunday, it lost heavily to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in an election in the eastern state of Thuringia.

In the Emnid poll, 53% said the CDU’s position as a mainstream national party was in danger, likening its prospects to the demise of the once-formidable Social Democratic Party (SPD), the junior partner in Merkel’s coalition.

The Conservatives recorded 27% national support in Bild’s weekly survey, with the SPD on 16% and the AfD on 15%.

Merz plans to lay out his plans in a speech at the CDU party convention at the end of this month in Leipzig, his spokesman told Sunday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung paper.

The same story quoted Kramp-Karrenbauer as saying: “All contributions to the debate on the future of the country and of the CDU are highly welcome.”

CDU youth members are pushing for the party as a whole to vote on its chancellor candidate, rather than the party conference, FAS wrote. But it said major regional party branches were opposed.

Reporting by Vera Eckert: Editing by Kevin Liffey