BERLIN, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Throughout his campaign to become Germany's chancellor, Social Democrat Olaf Scholz has told voters his experience and steadfastness make him Angela Merkel's natural successor.
Often labelled "boring", the 63-year-old finance minister has cast himself as a man of action who can be trusted to get things done.
"I'm applying for chancellor, not to be a circus ringmaster," he told women's magazine Brigitte.
His strategy appears to be paying off. The vice chancellor and former Hamburg mayor is the frontrunner in Sunday's national election, with opinion polls https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/german-social-democrats-lead-narrows-days-before-election-2021-09-21 putting the Social Democrats ahead of the conservatives even though their rivals have narrowed the gap.
Despite an attack by conservative candidate Armin Laschet on his record on tackling money laundering https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/merkel-ally-presses-spds-scholz-over-money-laundering-probe-2021-09-10 in the third and final televised debate https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/merkel-aide-warns-against-protracted-coalition-talks-tv-debate-nears-2021-09-19, a snap poll showed Scholz won to take a clean sweep of the debates.
Merkel is not seeking a fifth term after 16 years as chancellor and, with rival campaigns marred by blunders, Scholz's predictability has helped him push ahead of his rivals.
While promising continuity and stability, Scholz has been distancing himself from the conservatives. He says they have been too cozy with business and he promises https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/scholz-sprint-shakes-up-race-succeed-germanys-merkel-2021-08-24, if elected, to increase the minimum wage, tighten rent controls and maintain high public investment in greener, more digital infrastructure.
As finance minister, Scholz has won praise from the International Monetary Fund for his response to the coronavirus pandemic. During his 3-1/2-year tenure, Scholz has ditched balanced budgets at home and helped create the European Union's pandemic recovery fund, overcoming Merkel's initial resistance.
With France, Scholz also drove efforts to introduce a global corporate minimum tax and new tax rules for tech giants. (Reporting by Freerk Heinz and Tanya Wood, Writing by Tomasz Janowski, Editing by Timothy Heritage)