Bavarian leader reaffirms support for Laschet despite poll dip

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: First event of CSU election campaign tour, in Unterschleissheim

MUNICH (Reuters) - Bavarian premier Markus Soeder on Thursday rejected calls for him to replace Armin Laschet as conservative candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in September's election, throwing his weight behind Laschet's ailing campaign.

Laschet, premier of Germany's most populous region, started the campaign with poll leads of as much as 25%, but missteps and voter doubts have whittled his lead away, with the Social Democrats (SPD) enjoying a narrow lead in some new polls.

Soeder, leader of the smaller of the parties that make up Germany's conservative bloc, was Laschet's main rival for the conservative nomination and is the only politician with ratings to rival those of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the SPD candidate.

"He (Laschet) will be a strong chancellor," Soeder said in Munich, rejecting calls for the conservatives to revisit the choice. "He has my 100% support ... The decision has been taken: We have a candidate, and he is called Armin Laschet."

Laschet, who was lambasted for blunders such as appearing to giggle in the background while the country's president paid tribute to over 200 victims of German floods, positioned himself as a centrist heir to Merkel but has failed to convince voters that he shares her trademark unflappability.

Soeder warned that the alternative to voting for Laschet could be a left-wing government that he said he was certain German voters did not want.

"I'm quite certain that German voters do not want a lurch to the left," he said.

The conservatives and the SPD were neck-and-neck at 23% in a Kantar poll published on Thursday, with the Greens in third place on 18%. A poll earlier this week put the SPD ahead for the first time in 15 years.

(This story corrects Scholz to Soeder in para 4)

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz, writing by Thomas Escritt)