German SPD bets big on Scholz in election campaign

After more than three years leading Germany’s finance ministry, Olaf Scholz is now viewed by his party as its best asset going into September’s national election.

That was evident Wednesday as the Social Democrats unveiled their election strategy in Berlin, focusing the campaign heavily on Scholz, the party’s candidate for chancellor. Even the campaign slogan will feature his name, tying Scholz to the party’s core identity — Scholz packt das an (Scholz will tackle it) can be abbreviated as SPD, the party’s initials.

“Olaf Scholz is someone who is held in high esteem, who is trusted, and who people believe can get things done,” said SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil as he presented the party’s strategy.

The party has long hovered in the polls at third place behind the Greens and the SPD’s current coalition partners in government, the conservative CDU/CSU bloc. But Scholz — who also serves as vice chancellor — is far more popular on his own, in part benefitting from recent missteps by his rivals.

According to the latest Politbarometer survey conducted for public broadcaster ZDF, 34 percent of Germans said Scholz should be the next chancellor after the election, compared to 29 percent who said it should be conservative candidate Armin Laschet, and just 20 percent who voiced support for the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock.

Laschet has lost 8 percentage points compared to mid-July after facing backlash over footage that showed him laughing in the background during a visit to flood zones in North Rhine-Westphalia, the state he governs, all while President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave a somber assessment of the death and destruction. Baerbock has also suffered in the polls after a string of missteps, including most recently saying the “N-word” in German.

GERMANY NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

“We have the strongest candidate of the three,” Klingbeil said. “When I look at how two of the three chancellor candidates have been busy for weeks apologizing for mistakes … then that shows me that there are differences in quality between the candidates. When two are tearing themselves apart, the third one stands out.”

But under the German electoral system, voters elect parties, not their chancellor directly. POLITICO’s Poll of Polls shows the SPD at 17 percent, far behind the CDU/CSU at 27 percent and a couple of points behind the Greens at 19 percent.

Focusing so heavily on Scholz is also a risky bet in a country where voters are often wary of campaigns centered around one strong personality.

In the run-up to the 2013 election, the Christian Democrats (CDU) plastered billboards with photos zoomed in on their candidate Chancellor Angela Merkel’s signature “rhombus” or “triangle of power,” which she often forms with her hands while speaking or posing for photos. But this was met with ridicule and became a viral internet meme.

The SPD itself dismissed the campaign as a “Cuban-style cult of personality.”



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