Merkel Heir Goes on Offensive After Chancellor Bid Wins Momentum

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Armin Laschet went on the offensive in his bid to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor after helping secure a decisive victory for the Christian Democratic Union in Germany’s poorest state.

After the party won the most votes in Saxony-Anhalt, Laschet took swipes at political opponents -- including Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate for chancellor -- and trumpeted his moderate approach as the path to victory.

“The result gives us tailwind,” Laschet said at the CDU’s headquarters in Berlin on Monday. “We won’t veer from our centrist course one bit,” he said, adding that Merkel will hit the campaign trail to back his candidacy.

The CDU halted its slide in recent elections on Sunday, winning 37% of the ballots in Saxony-Anhalt, up more than seven percentage points compared to the last vote in 2016, according to preliminary results. The far-right Alternative for Germany, which was pushing for the lead in some recent polls, dropped more than three points to end up a distant second in the former communist region with 21%.

Laschet, a consensus-seeking moderate in Merkel’s mold, said the results vindicate his view that votes and not polls win elections.

The CDU chief had dismissed the importance of voter surveys during a messy power struggle in April with Bavarian ally Markus Soeder, who was much more popular. While Laschet prevailed, he emerged with his reputation bruised.

In the press conference, he accused the Social Democrats -- Merkel’s junior coalition partner -- of undermining the government in a scandal over face masks, and took a dig at Baerbock after the Greens ended up in sixth place behind the Free Democrats in Saxony-Anhalt.

“She’s an opponent, and I’m taking every competitor seriously,” Laschet said. “But if you come in behind the FDP, it’s not exactly a major boost that she initiated in Saxony-Anhalt.”

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