'Germany's Romney' Down; Is Merkel Next?

Mitt Romney did not seek re-election as governor of Massachusetts in ’06, preferring to go full time in the presidential primaries rather than face an electorate that was decidedly to the left of where he had to be to run for President.  Had he sought re-election and lost, it would have taken a very bad year for Republicans and made it worse:  one of GOP’s brightest leaders for tomorrow beaten in his home turf would have cast a dark shadow indeed on Republican chances of retaining power at the national level this year.

That, in effect, is what happened in Germany over the weekend: the Mitt Romney of Germany apparently lost his re-election bid on his home turf and talk is rising that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU-CSU (conservative) party may not be able to hold on until the next scheduled national elections in ’09.

Roland Koch state premier (governor) of Hesse, and his Christian Democrats (CDU) apparently lost to the opposition Socialists (SPD) by a razor-thin margin of 36.9% to 36.6%.  The far-left Greens, who drew 8%, are likely to serve as coalition partners in the state government with the SPD and thus give the premiership to the Hessian SPD leader, leftist Angela Ypsilanti.

As state premier since 1999, the 49-year-old Koch had long been dubbed a “man in waiting” among German conservatives.  Re-elected last time with a handsome 49% of the vote, there was considerable talk of him as CDU leader had Merkel lost the last national elections.  The Hessian was his party’s brightest potential leader at the state level — in effect, the Mitt Romney of Germany.  And Hesse was a crucial state, as the home of the financial capital, Frankfurt.

After a string of mistakes and misstatements, Koch based his re-election on fighting crime by deporting foreign  criminals.  The organized left and the media have begun to conclude that, German concern with illegal immigration notwithstanding, the defeat of Koch after a hard-nosed “law and order” campaign means that the issue no longer resonates.  Others feel that Merkel being drawn into the campaign and stumping alongside Koch — thereby giving national SPD leader Kurt Beck (who serves in the “Grand Coaliton” government in Berlin along with Merkel and the conservatives) an opportunity to make the Hesse race a referendum on the chancellor and her calls for reform of taxes, energy, and national security. 

Now Koch may be out and Merkel could well be forced to call an early election — one in which she would face an SPD led by the decidedly leftist Beck, a striking contrast to the “Third Way” SPD under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder she narrowly edged out of absolute power in ’05.  If this were the case, then the trend of right-of-center leadership in Western Europe that has dominated elections since the early 21st century.


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