Germany’s SPD eyes state vote win after Merkel party crisis

BERLIN (Reuters) – A leadership crisis in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party could help her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners and the Greens in a state vote on Sunday, the first electoral test since her protegee gave up ambitions for the top job.

Polls suggest the SPD will remain the biggest party in the election in the northern port of Hamburg, allowing them to continue their coalition with the resurgent Greens – set to see the biggest gains.

Campaigning in Germany’s second-biggest city was suspended after a far-right shooting rampage on Wednesday night left 11 people dead in the western town of Hanau but commentators expect little direct impact on the result.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), in third place, may face a backlash from voters after Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer plunged her party into disarray by blowing open the race to succeed the chancellor with her decision to stand aside two weeks ago.

At least four contenders are jockeying for the CDU leadership and the party is split over how and when to make the decision. It is also unclear whether the new party chair will run as chancellor in a federal election due by Oct. 2021.

“It is possible that, in light of recent events, the SPD may gain a bit from voters who switch from the CDU,” said Kai-Uwe Schnapp, politics professor at Hamburg University.

A Politbarometer poll for Hamburg, traditionally an SPD stronghold, on Thursday put the SPD on 39.0%, down from 45.6% in 2015 and the CDU on 12%, down about 4 points.

The Greens, on 24% in the poll, look set to roughly double their share of the vote, reflecting their national strength. Capitalizing on fears about climate change, they are second behind Merkel’s conservatives at the national level.

“This would send a clear signal that the Greens can sustain the success they saw last year especially in May’s elections to the European Parliament,” said Schnapp.

Local issues, such as transport and housing, are the top issues in Hamburg, which with its famous fish market and red-light district has a reputation for being one of Germany’s most tolerant cities.

This limits the appeal of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), at 6.0% in the poll, which made big gains in state elections in the former Communist East last year.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Christina Fincher)