Armin Laschet, the contender from Merkel’s conservative camp, was the biggest loser in the first head-to-head clash among the three candidates. He failed to sustain a challenge that might lift his sputtering campaign, while the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock gave a spirited performance, landing several blows, especially against Laschet, Bloomberg reported.
After the 100-minute debate on Sunday, Scholz was picked as the winner by 36% of viewers, according to a Forsa poll for broadcasters RTL/ntv. Baerbock was second with 30%, while Laschet was last with 25%.
With Merkel stepping down after 16 years in power, the Sept. 26 election is a toss-up and the debate was a key opportunity to sway opinion. Laschet’s bid has faltered in recent weeks after a series of gaffes, including laughing in the midst of flood damage. His stumbles hit support for the conservatives, which have fallen behind Scholz’s SPD in several polls.
Scholz was characteristically technocratic, but weathered the barbs from his two challengers without landing blows of his own. Given his momentum in the polls, he didn’t necessarily need to do more.
“This is the biggest country in the European Union, it has the biggest economic power,” said Scholz, who’s also vice chancellor in Merkel’s government. “The question of how Europe will develop will depend on the question of how German develops. I will make sure that this will be a good development.”
Laschet, who heads Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, attacked Scholz over holding up a military-drone project and also tangled with Baerbock, saying her party is risking German competitiveness by burdening industry with more rules and regulations.
The Green party’s contender, who stumbled over plagiarism allegations early in the campaign, delivered a stinging blow, telling Laschet he lacked a clear plan as he tried to challenge her over her party’s plans to counter child poverty.
“You have been governing for years and apparently still have no plan,” she said. “It would be nice if you also had some proposals.”
Baerbock took on Scholz and Laschet, saying the two parties didn’t have what it takes to lead Germany into the future, with its economy under threat from climate change and digital technologies.
“The years of waiting of the grand coalition of CDU and SPD have not served this country well,” she said. “We need a real new start.”