German opposition seen winning major state vote

Associated Press
Social Democratic Party top candidate for the state elections of North Rhine-Wesphalia, Hannelore Kraft, leaves after voting at a polling station in Muelheim, Germany, Sunday May 13, 2012. Germany's most populated and industrial state holds parliament elections on Sunday. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

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BERLIN (AP) — An exit poll indicates that voters in Germany's most populous state have strengthened a center-left regional government which Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives sought to portray as irresponsibly spendthrift.

The ARD television exit poll showed the center-left Social Democrats and Greens — Germany's main opposition parties — winning combined support of 51 percent in Sunday's election in North Rhine-Westphalia. That would be enough to give them a majority in the state legislature.

It showed support for Merkel's Christian Democrats dropping to 26 percent — their worst showing yet in the state.

The vote follows a defeat for Merkel's center-right coalition in another state election last weekend and comes as Germany starts to look toward national elections expected late next year.

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