“Course in the middle is correct”

Armin Laschet came out stronger from the NRW local elections – also for the battle for the CDU candidate for chancellor. The SPD, on the other hand, is in the valley of tears. The joy is especially great elsewhere.

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The CDU wins the municipal elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, but the biggest cheers come from the Greens. Even if larger electoral parties had to be canceled due to the corona pandemic, about 20 percent were satisfied. However, the CDU’s victory was expected, the Christian Democrats having been the strongest municipal power in the most populous federal state since 1999. While the CDU had to give a few praise, Prime Minister Armin Laschet sees the result of a good 34 percent after 37.5 percent in 2014 likely to be a revival in the battle for the federal presidency of the CDU and his ambitions for the chancellery.

In contrast, the SPD is not from the valley of tears in NRW, its former homeland, and has posted its worst local election result to date. The Social Democrats managed to keep their second place with over 24 percent, but suffered heavy losses.

Laschet wants to become the CDU’s candidate for chancellor

The NRW local elections are considered the nation’s most important ballot test in 2020 and a test for Laschet before the CDU federal party conference in December. Next, the 59-year-old takes on former Union party leader Friedrich Merz and foreign politician Norbert Röttgen for the party chairmanship. If Laschet overcomes this hurdle, he is about to overcome the following: he wants to run for chancellor. The polls show that Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) is still undisputed at the top – although Söder has not yet expressed any ambitions for the chancellor.

Laschet was not an option in North Rhine-Westphalia, but he sees his course in the Corona crisis clearly confirmed by the results. “The choice is also a recognition, the path of measure and the middle of the pandemic was good, is good and remains good in North Rhine-Westphalia,” said the head of government to the applause of his supporters at the CDU headquarters in Düsseldorf.

Later he made a statement on WDR television to his internal party critics: “Everyone in the CDU may now understand that a middle way is right.” The CDU could win even in big cities. Merz teased anyway. “Weaknesses” should not be overlooked, he told the Funke media group newspapers. The CDU is losing to the Greens, especially in the big cities.

NRW Prime Minister is confident

Laschet is clearly well prepared against Merz. The decision about where the CDU will go will be made in December. Party congress delegates would then “see” how the regional CDU association was founded in NRW and how the CDU won elections in the former SPD state of NRW.

The federal party has also given the CDU in NRW a boost, says Laschet. According to political scientist Martin Florack, the black-and-red federal government is seen by many as an anchor of crisis and stability in the corona pandemic. But at the same time he restricted WDR television: “Gone are the days when old hegemonic positions of the parties are continued. This applies to both the CDU and the SPD.”

SPD is not bottoming out

Most of all, the SPD does not emerge from deep within the country it ruled for 50 years. Even the early appointment of Olaf Scholz as chancellor did not give the battered Social Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia the moment they had hoped for. “We have not been able to make it clear that it makes a difference where Social Democrats rule,” federal party leader Saskia Esken disappointed.

NRW party leader Sebastian Hartmann tried to reinterpret the recent crash in a positive way. “Compared to the European elections in 2019, we can significantly improve our result nationally, even though we are unfortunately behind the local election results of 2014,” he said. Moreover, “the trend has turned and we are ahead of the Greens”.

But in both the capital Düsseldorf and Dortmund, sworn in as the “heart chamber of the social democracy”, the SPD candidates will have to go to the elections in two weeks. If SPD Mayor Thomas Geisel lost to CDU candidate Stephan Keller in Düsseldorf, it would be “a sensation”, according to Laschet. The SPD had already lost strongholds such as Oberhausen and Essen in the 2014 local elections.

On November 14, SPD leader Hartmann wants to be re-elected at the NRW-SPD party conference. His left course has not paid off for the celebration so far. It is unclear whether Hartmann will remain unchallenged in the board election.

Cheering mood among the Greens

According to extrapolation, the Greens nationally came to more than 18 percent, compared to 11.7 percent in 2014. In Cologne, the Greens are even the strongest force in the council, ahead of the CDU and SPD. The Greens came in the second round of the elections in Bonn, Münster and Aachen. The only downside: Cologne mayor Henriette Reker, backed by the CDU and the Greens, has likely just missed the 50 percent mark and is expected to make it to the second round against SPD challenger Andreas Kossiski.

Given the success of the Greens, the dual leadership Mona Neubaur and Felix Banaszak says, “A lot of people want there to be no escaping green content.” According to surveys, the Greens have won by far the most votes, especially among young voters. “A lot of people voted with us Greens for a new departure, a change.”

But another party also felt a boost from the local elections in North Rhine-Westphalia. The right-wing populist AfD improved from 2.6 to about 5.4 percent – roughly on par with the FDP. In Gelsenkirchen, the AfD was even the third strongest force in the council by extrapolation. That should give all parties in NRW food for thought.

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