German election: Merkel's CDU wins big in regional election

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party has comfortably won an election in the small southwestern state of Saarland - a vote seen as a bellwether for the national election in September.

The biggest win for the CDU in the state in 13 years provided a reality check for Martin Schulz, who has led the Social Democratic Party back into contention after it chose him as Merkel's main challenger.

With just six months to go until a general election in Europe's top economy in which Merkel is seeking a fourth term, the poll in the tiny southwestern state of Saarland Sunday took on outsized importance.

Polls in Saarland show support for the Social Democrats (SPD) has risen from 22% to 33% since Schulz, leader of the party, was chosen as its candidate for chancellor in January.

Merkel doubled down on Monday, saying she would consider governing with any party except the Left or the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany if her CDU-led bloc wins on September 24.

"Chancellor Merkel and President Trump discussed the topic of defense expenditure during their talks in Washington".

"This is a great start to the election year 2017", said Michael Grosse-Broemer, the chief whip for Merkel's Christian Democrats in Berlin.

Conservative governor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer's popularity appeared to have trumped what has become known as the "Schulz effect". "It was clear what the people in Saarland didn't want, and that was a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Left Party".

Pre-election polls suggested a significantly tighter race. Schulz is wary of talking about coalition formations before the state and federal elections, keen to maximize SPD support. The Greens won 4.5 percent, which would be below the 5 percent threshold to win seats in the state assembly. AfD is not represented in the country's national parliament.

The election carries significance as it is the first of three regional votes ahead of the September 24 federal vote and as such it offers an opportunity for the parties to build - or lose - momentum in their quest to prevail at national level. Her center-left challenger in Germany's national election later this year vowed not to be put off his stride by a deflating result. He acknowledged that the Saarland outcome should not be "sugar-coated", but also said the election process "is a long-distance run, not a sprint", according to Reuters.