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BERLIN - A few days after the only TV debate between Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his conservative challenger Angela Merkel in the run-up to Sept. 18 elections, the verdict was almost unanimous.
The media-savvy chancellor had, as expected, won the exchange, according to flash polls. But Germans elect parties, not the main candidates. And for three months, those poll numbers have shown Mr. Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SPD) a good 10 points behind Ms. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - pointing to a growing likelihood that the former East German physicist will end the chancellor's seven-year rule.
In a campaign that has taken cues from US-style spin and image-shaping, a Merkel win would bring a shift to the right that promises better communication with the US, a critical voice in the pledge to include Turkey in the European Union, and - most important - a more aggressive approach to Germany's greatest problem: the economy.
Seven years since he made his promise to bring down unemployment to less than 3 million, the country's jobless number more than 4.7 million.
The economic situation, and the political defeats it has caused his party in several state elections over the past year, is what prompted Schroeder in May to call for elections one year early.
For the roughly 30 percent of people who polls show as undecided, Sunday's debate offered little that is new. The flash polls conducted after the debate showed people had more or less expected each candidate to perform as they did: Schroeder was confident and jovial; Merkel, not as warm, but very authoritative.
The impressions gell with the packaging that hordes of advisers and campaign staff for the country's two major parties had fashioned for their lead candidates at rousing party congresses and flashy stump speeches ahead of Sunday's debate. If the methods employed - campaign theme songs, bus tours throughout the country, even call centers - look familiar, it's because they are. In shaping their candidates and messages, the parties are increasingly borrowing methods fashioned and perfected in the United States, say former media advisors and analysts.
"The Americanization of German campaigning is, above all, a professionalization of the campaigns," says Michael Spreng.
In 2002, Mr. Spreng managed the conservative candidate Edmund Stoiber's failed campaign bid to unseat Schroeder as chancellor. The election marked the first time in Germany candidates held televised debates with one another. Spreng sent an assistant to the US to research debate rules and watch videotape of past debates.
The 2005 campaign has seen even more borrowed elements from the US. Merkel's campaign team has set up a professional call center to handle queries from voters, and a so-called "rapid response" team that contradicts inaccuracies made by Schroeder in speeches or attacks on his opponent, says a CDU campaign official.
The conservatives' party congress, held on Aug. 21, featured a one-and-a-half-hour performance by singers from the musical "Queen" and the arrival of Merkel to raucous cheers and a sea of orange placards bearing the name "Angie," a very un-German nickname given the candidate by her campaign and likely designed to broaden her appeal.
"It was completely new in the party's history," says the official. "Almost the entire party congress was designed with show and television in mind. It was pretty modern for a conservative, white-bread party like ours."
Like the party's use of the Rolling Stones song "Angie" at stump speeches, the congress was designed to lend a little flash to a candidate who voters think of as capable, but uninspiring, says the official. "We wanted to stir up some emotions," he says.
The SPD offered a toned-down version of their party congress last week in order to serve as a contrast to the conservatives. Campaign manager Kajo Wasserhoevel said the party will use grass-roots methods like canvassing - that the SPD first learned by watching John F. Kennedy's campaign in 1960 - in the final weeks. But the party will continue to personalize the campaign, building on Schroeder's high popularity ratings in an effort to sway voters to his party.
"We want to show his strengths, his courage in reforming the country and his work for peace," says Mr. Wasserhoevel.
Some critics say this type of personalization is strange in a political system where the party, not the individual, is the focal point and worry about a campaign future based on style, not substance. But campaign veterans like Peter Radunski, a political consultant and former campaign manager for Chancellor Helmut Kohl, say it's the natural development in the age of television, and with a candidate as telegenic and accomplished in front of the camera as Schroeder.
"You could call it Americanization, but you could also call it a modernization," says Mr. Radunski. "If there's television, then you should use it."
There are some things German strategists will never be able to copy. Broadcast rules restrict campaign ads to being shown only on select channels in the evening time, sparing voters an avalanche of campaign spots.
German campaigns will also never be able to match the money shelled out by US Democrats and Republicans. Germans typically don't contribute to campaigns, and the 25 million euros ($31 million) the SPD is planning to spend and the 23 euros million the CDU will spend, pale in comparison to the figures spent on the other side of the Atlantic. Even if they had such cash, Spreng says a complete adoption of American campaign tactics would be a waste of money.
"It's never going to be as showy as in America," says Spreng. "The voters understand it's part of a show ... but they know not to mix more politics and show business. The Germans are more fact-based and skeptical."
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http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u ... y_election
BERLIN - Conservative challenger Angela Merkel's party won the most votes in German elections Sunday but fell short of a clear mandate to govern, according to official results. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder staged a dramatic comeback and proclaimed that he should head the next government.
The inconclusive result made it likely that Germany's next government would be weakened because of the narrow vote margin and difficulties in forming a coalition.
If Merkel is to become Germany's first female chancellor, she now must find a majority in a coalition that would likely force her to water down finance reform plans. And such a deal might also lead to a dampening of her strong opposition to Turkish membership of the European Union.
The vote centered on different visions of Germany's role in the world and how to fix its sputtering economy. Schroeder touted the country's role as a European leader and counterbalance to America, while Merkel pledged to reform the economy and strengthen relations with Washington.
With 298 of 299 districts declaring, the results showed Merkel's Christian Democrats party leading with 35.2 percent of the vote compared to 34.3 percent for Schroeder's Social Democrats. Voting in the final district, Dresden, was delayed until Oct. 2 because of the death of a candidate. But that outcome was not expected to affect the final result.
The outcome gave Merkel's party 225 seats, three more than the Social Democrats; the Free Democrats got 61, the Left Party 54 and the Greens 51.
Merkel's preferred coalition partners — the pro-business Free Democrats — had 9.8 percent, leaving such an alliance short of outright victory. The Greens, the Social Democrats' current governing partner, had 8.1 percent; together, the two parties failed to reach a majority, heralding the end of Schroeder's seven-year-old government.
The Left Party had 8.7 percent of the vote, but Schroeder said he would not work with them. The overall election turnout was 77.7 percent.
The result was a major setback for Merkel, whose party was at 42 percent in polls the week before the election.
She smiled but twisted her fingers in apparent agitation as she argued that she had a mandate to be the next leader after exit polls showed the race almost neck and neck. "What is important now is to form a stable government for the people in Germany, and we ... quite clearly have the mandate to do that," Merkel said.
In contrast, Schroeder was exuberant and branded the performance of Merkel's party "disastrous."
"I do not understand how the (Christian Democratic) Union, which started off so confidently and arrogantly, takes a claim to political leadership from a disastrous election result," Schroeder said, adding defiantly that he could foresee four years of stable government "under my leadership."
Both Merkel and Schroeder said they would talk to all parties except the new Left Party, a combination of ex-communists and renegade Social Democrats.
One leading possibility for Merkel: a linkup between her Christian Democrats and Schroeder's Social Democrats, viewed by some as a recipe for paralysis in a country plagued by 11.4 percent unemployment.
The unclear result opened a scramble among the parties to see who could come up with a majority.
Schroeder, written off as a lame duck a few weeks ago, refused to concede defeat, saying he could still theoretically remain in power if talks with other parties were successful.
"I feel myself confirmed in ensuring on behalf of our country that there is in the next four years a stable government under my leadership," he said to cheering supporters at party headquarters, flashing the thumbs-up signal and holding his arms aloft like a victorious prizefighter.
Schroeder's performance was a reminder of the 2002 vote, when he came from behind to narrowly win re-election after his vociferous opposition to the war in Iraq received public approval.
A turning point was Schroeder's performance in their only head-to-head debate Sept. 4. He hammered her tax adviser, Paul Kirchhof, for having proposed a 25-percent flat tax, even though that is not part of Merkel's program.
Merkel also was hurt by a campaign gaffe by Edmund Stoiber, leader of the Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union. Stoiber disparaged voters in the economically struggling former East Germany, saying he did not want the "frustrated" east to decide the result.
Now, Merkel's plans to make it easier for small companies to fire people, cut payroll taxes and let companies opt out of regional wage bargaining agreements seem much farther away. Her foreign policy plans — among them, to oppose Turkish membership of the European Union — also were up in the air.
Juergen Thumann, head of the Federation of Germany Industry, said the result was "bitterly disappointing."
"This will making governing much more difficult," he said on N-TV television.
Schroeder defiantly taunted Merkel in a joint television appearance Sunday night, saying she would not receive the post of chancellor in any deal with the Social Democrats.
"If Mrs. Merkel manages to form a coalition with the Free Democrats and Greens, I can say nothing against it," Schroeder said. "But she will not win a coalition under her leadership with my Social Democratic Party."
Asked if he would be chancellor in a left-right coalition, Schroeder answered, "How else would it work?"
If the new parliament cannot elect a chancellor in three attempts, President Horst Koehler could appoint a minority government led by the candidate with a simple majority.
ZDF projected the following division of seats: Christian Democrats, 217; Social Democrats, 213; Free Democrats, 63; Left Party, 54; and Greens, 51. More seats can be added to the lower house of parliament in Germany's system of proportional representation.
Other possibilities were an all-left government of Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party, but a Left Party leader, Oskar Lafontaine, ruled out joining such a coalition.
Another possibility would be the Christian Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats
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