Merkel’s Favored Candidate Wins CDU Party Race: Germany Update

(Bloomberg) -- Angela Merkel’s long departure from politics began with a victory as her Christian Democratic Union picked her preferred candidate, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, to take over as party chief.

Latest Developments

  • Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, defeats conservative favorite Friedrich Merz by 517 votes to 482 in runoff ballot at party conference in Hamburg.

Kramp-Karrenbauer Offers Rivals CDU Role (5:10 p.m.)

Kramp-Karrenbauer offered her fellow candidates -- Merz and Jens Spahn -- a role in running the CDU, extending a hand following the hotly contested race to succeed Merkel. In his concession speech, Merz offered his backing for Kramp-Karrenbauer and urged his supporters to get behind the party’s new leader.

Merkel’s Favored Candidate Wins CDU Party Race: Germany Update

Kramp-Karrenbauer Wins CDU Leadership Vote (4:58 p.m.)

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer won the vote to succeed Merkel as head of Germany’s ruling CDU party. The 56-year-old Merkel acolyte defeated Friedrich Merz in the second round of voting after Health Minister Jens Spahn was eliminated.

Kramp-Karrenbauer gained enough support from Spahn’s backers to get 517 votes to Merz’s 482.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, appointed earlier this year by Merkel as the party’s general secretary, withstood an energetic challenge from Merz, who was seeking a political comeback with the backing of party heavyweights like former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. She will now be viewed as first in line to run for chancellor in 2021 after Merkel’s surprise announcement in October that her fourth term will be her last.

How Will Spahn’s Supporters Break? (4:31 p.m.)

The outsider in the race, 38-year-old Health Minister Jens Spahn, got 157 out of the 999 votes cast in the first round and those delegates will now decide the result. Spahn is from the conservative wing of the party, so 63-year-old Merz is likely to pick up more of those ballots, the question though is will he get enough -- he needs 109 to get over the line.

Former Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust said Spahn’s supporters are from a younger generation that may have more connection with 56-year-old Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Merz, Kramp-Karrenbauer Advance to Runoff (4:12 p.m.)

The two front-runners -- conservative Friedrich Merz and Merkel acolyte Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer -- advanced to a runoff after the first round of voting with neither gaining an absolute majority from the 999 delegates. Kramp-Karrenbauer led in the first round with 450 votes to Merz’s 392.

Health Minister Jens Spahn came in third with 157 and was eliminated.

Merkel’s Favored Candidate Wins CDU Party Race: Germany Update

Spahn Defends His Long-Shot Candidacy (2:55 p.m.)

Spahn rounded out the top contenders, directly addressing the broad expectation that he’ll come in a distant third in the first round. He still wants to lead the party into the future, he said.

“Trust in our state has been lost,” Spahn, 38, whose conservative positions have won backing among the party’s youth and social conservatives, told delegates. He’s been a frequent critic of Merkel’s migration policy. “We want to fulfill Germany’s grand promise that the next generation will be better off.”

Merz Calls for ‘New Start’ (2:25 p.m.)

Merz made his plea for the CDU to wrest back voters who have defected to the far-right Alternative for Germany, a situation he called “unacceptable.’’

In a speech that was more measured than Kramp-Karrenbauer’s, Merz self-confidently addressed his talking points, with a stronger focus on geopolitics and Germany’s place in Europe. Above all, Merz underscored his promise to move for a clean break from Merkel’s 13 years in power.

“This party conference will signal a renewal and a new start,” said Merz, the supervisory board chairman of BlackRock Inc.’s German asset management unit. “We need a change in strategy on the issues, in our attitude to our political opponents and, above all, in the way we communicate with the people in our nation.”

After citing migration as an unaddressed issue, he accused Merkel’s government of allowing many Germans to live in fear. A statement that was greeted with applause.

In a crack at Merkel, who has confronted a reputation for lacking vision and delaying decision-making, Merz said he would step into the breech. He also called for an “agenda for the industrious” to reward hard work and a sharp contrast with the rival Social Democrats.

Kramp-Karrenbauer Defends Europe’s “Last Unicorn” (2:10 p.m.)

Merkel’s acolyte urged Germany’s ruling party to remain a broad-based political force, calling the CDU the “last unicorn” in Europe’s polarized political landscape.

“We have to have the courage to buck the zeitgeist,” Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU general secretary, said in her speech to delegates. “Anybody can run sharp attacks on our opponents. But that’s not enough for a strong, successful big-tent party.”

She vowed to fight to win upcoming state elections and took a swipe at Merz, who left politics after losing a power struggle with Merkel, by pointing to 18 years of uninterrupted service for the CDU.

Merkel’s favored candidate, who at one point turned to the chancellor to thank her for her leadership, also addressed accusations that she’s too similar to Merkel.

“Delegates, I stand here as I am and on how I’ve led my life – and I’m proud of that,” she said.

Merkel’s Political Fate in the Party’s Hands (1:07 p.m.)

Merkel hinted she intends to stay on as chancellor till her term ends in 2021. Yet with her power base diminished, she pleaded with her party to play ball. While delegates applauded her pledge to stick around to deal with challenges from the euro zone to plastic polluting the seas, that doesn’t mean she’ll have an easy time in the cold light of day -- whoever next heads the CDU.

“What is close to my heart is that in the last parliamentary term of my political career I’ll be able to make a contribution that allows the renewed success of the CDU while maintaining our interests in matters of state,” Merkel told delegates. “That’s how we can set the stage for the future.”

With a warning against taking on nationalists on their own turf, Merkel left her party with an imprint of her legacy: the Lutheran pastor’s daughter who wasn’t predestined for a political career, but won four elections while resisting extremist rhetoric and at times the public derision of her opponents.

She also reminded delegates of what their party should stand for.

“In times like these, we have a responsibility to show that we can defend our way of life, our liberal values and our interests at home and abroad,” she said.

Merkel Bids Farewell and Opens “New Chapter” (12:10 p.m.)

After a smattering of applause throughout the course of her final speech as CDU chief, Merkel was bid farewell with a rousing standing ovation that lasted about 10 minutes and included a brief encore.

Merkel’s Favored Candidate Wins CDU Party Race: Germany Update

“Now it’s time to open a new chapter,” said Merkel, who was visibly moved at the end of her speech. “Today, at this hour, in this moment I’m overcome by a single feeling – of gratitude. It was a great joy, it was an honor. Thank you.”

Merkel Stands by Role as Chancellor (11:55 a.m.)

Despite giving up her role as CDU leader, Merkel left no doubt that she intends to stay on as chancellor until her term ends in 2021.

“I don’t need a leadership post to be connected with my party – and I’m also still chancellor,” said Merkel.

She said the CDU is called on more than ever to defend its liberal values and Germany’s way of life, at home and abroad. Today’s party conference is about ensuring that the CDU keeps claiming the chancellorship, after having done it for 50 years of Germany’s postwar history, she said.

Merkel Downplays Impact of CDU Leadership Change (11:40 a.m.)

Delivering her farewell address as CDU leader, Merkel downplayed the historic nature of the upcoming leadership change, saying the party has always been about more than one person.

While Germany and the party face “challenging times” -- including the emergence of the far-right AfD and social polarization -- “we faced a moment of destiny 18 years ago,” when Merkel took charge amid a party finance scandal, she said. “We kept a cool head; we relied on our own strength.”

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