“Solid” Scholz outshines its rivals on the German countryside

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The people of Hamburg, a notoriously button-up city, are rarely excited when high profile politicians pass by – unless that politician is Olaf Scholz, their most famous former mayor and political son.

Currently German finance minister and vice-chancellor, Scholz is running to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor in the federal elections in September. When he visited the Hanseatic city last week, shoppers smiled, raised their thumbs and posed for selfies wherever he went.

“He definitely gets my vote,” said Marvin Reimers, a listener, holding up an autograph from Scholz. “He was a great mayor and will be a great chancellor. “

If the Germans could elect their leader directly, Scholz, who is currently finance minister, would be the big favorite.

A recent poll by ARD / Deutschlandtrend found that 35% wanted him to succeed Merkel, compared with 20% who supported Armin Laschet, Merkel’s center-right CDU / CSU chancellor candidate, and 16% Annalena Baerbock of the Greens.

“Scholz is the strong, post-heroic technocrat,” said Wolfgang Schroeder, a political scientist at the Center for Social Sciences in Berlin. “People love him because he’s reliable, pragmatic, and decisive – and he’s a proven crisis manager. “

Scholz’s problem is the disastrous performance of his Social Democratic Party’s poll. The SPD only votes at 18%, behind the CDU / CSU at 27% and the Greens at 19%.

With less than 50 days to go, Scholz’s challenge is how to translate his high personal scores into better polls for his party.

“My message to the German people is this: if you want me as chancellor, you will have to vote SPD,” he recently told the Financial Times.

It could be a big request. The Social Democrats have been in decline for years, a reflection of the shrinking industrial working class in Germany, the party’s traditional base.

Many traditional party supporters have never forgiven him for the sweeping labor market and welfare reforms he carried out in the early 2000s under the leadership of then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The reforms helped fuel Germany’s longest post-war economic boom. But, as a senior SPD politician admitted: “We then lost a lot of confidence and did not get it back. ”

There is also a perception of a yawning gulf between the party and its candidate chancellor. Scholz, a centrist, lost the SPD leadership race in 2019 to two other left-wing candidates, Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans. We don’t know who really holds the reins since.

Despite this, the SPD has made headway in the polls in recent weeks, in part because of the numerous missteps committed by Scholz’s two rivals, Laschet and Baerbock. The leader of the Greens had to fight against accusations of plagiarism and embellishment of her CV. Laschet was brutalized by the press after he was filmed laughing during a visit to areas devastated by floods last month.

“For weeks now, two of the three candidates for chancellor have been busy apologizing for their mistakes and correcting their own nonsense,” said Lars Klingbeil, secretary general of the SPD. “When two break down, the third stands out.”

On the other hand, Scholz was hardly wrong. Television news reports showed him trudging through flooded areas, promising billions in government aid. He was also boosted by the recent global agreement on a minimum corporate tax rate – a deal he has long championed.

SPD officials say voters are finally realizing that Merkel, who ruled Germany for 16 years, will not be running in September. This could benefit Scholz, who presented himself as a seasoned pragmatist and intermediary in the Merkel mold.

“More and more, the key question in the minds of voters is who should actually run the country, and the answer they ultimately come up with is that we need a professional,” said Klingbeil.

Scholz has the most impressive CV, having served as Federal Minister of Labor and Mayor of Hamburg, before becoming Minister of Finance and Vice-Chancellor in 2018. No government experience at all.

SPD officials hope that improving their party’s fortunes could change the dynamics of the election. The consensus has long been that Germany would end up with a CDU / CSU-Greens coalition. Yet a very different result could still emerge if the SPD overtakes the Greens to become the second largest party.

Germany could then end up with a “traffic light” coalition – red for the SPD, amber for the liberal FDP and green for the Greens – with Scholz as chancellor.

“It would be interesting for voters, the idea that after 16 years you could finally have a government without the CDU / CSU,” said Schroeder, the political scientist. This would represent “a reform coalition pursuing more determined and lasting policies than. . . with the Conservatives ”.

Scholz is convinced that he has a path to power. Gone are the days when a party obtained more than 40% of the vote. “This means that only minor changes in voter behavior can create completely new constellations,” he said.

An obstacle to success could still be his own personality. He’s gentle, even-tempered, and somewhat cool. Critics say he has no charisma.

When asked in an interview last month if he lacked emotion, his response was a response any phlegmatic burger would appreciate: “I’m running for the job of chancellor, not circus director.


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