Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives won a state election Sunday in their center-left rivals' traditional heartland, a stinging blow to the German leader's challenger in September's national election.
German Chancellor and chairwoman of the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU) Angela Merkel smiles during a press conference at the party's headquarters in Berlin, Germany, Monday, May 15, 2017, one day after the election in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Armin Laschet, top candidate of the Christian Democratic Union, reacts to the first exit polls after the regional state elections of North Rhine-Westphalia.
FDP leader Christian Lindner seized on the party's 12.1 percent vote as signalling its comeback after the party was bounced out of the federal Parliament in Berlin following the last national poll in 2013.
"The German wave" with reference to the first exit poll reports that the CDU gaining 34.5% of the vote, while the social Democrats and 30.5%.
The CDU appeared able to cash in on local anger over issues including security, rising crime, education, immigration, relatively high unemployment and traffic jams.
The nationalist Alternative for Germany won 7.4 percent, giving it seats in its 13th state legislature.
The liberal Free Democrats, the CDU's preferred coalition partners, have bounced back to win nearly 13 per cent in NRW where the two allies are expected to have enough seats in the regional parliament to muster a majority.
But poor showings in two previous state elections since then had already punctured the party's euphoria over Schulz's nomination.
With their Green coalition partners slumping to 6 per cent, the SPD was voted out in the state for only the second time in the last 50 years.
The pressure is on the Social Democrats, led by challenger Martin Schulz, in the election Sunday for the state legislature in North Rhine-Westphalia.
An earlier survey conducted by the INSA institute suggested the country's left-wing political parties could, however, garner enough votes to beat Merkel's ruling party in the September polls if they joined together.
The result was the Social Democrats' worst in the region since World War Two, with CDU deputy chairman Armin Laschet set to become the new governor of North Rhine-Westphalia. It was still unclear late Sunday whether the far-left Die Linke would reach the 5 percent threshold to enter the state parliament. "So that we can forget those 50 plus years that the SPD is in power", said one older man. North-Rhine Westphalia was previously a stronghold for the SPD.
The March victory prompted President Trump to place a congratulatory call to Merkel just nine days after they had talked about the state elections at the White House. This means that the anti-immigrant party will now be present in 13 out of Germany's 16 state parliaments.
During that period, the conservative CDU was in power only in 2005-2010, leading commentators to declare its Sunday's win historic.