The speech on Sunday to the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) party conference was followed by a poll published in business daily Handelsblatt on Monday that found Steinbrück was the SPD's most credible voice on economic affairs and its second-most favoured candidate for Chancellor.
The SPD could win a majority only if it looked after small-business owners, entrepreneurs, skilled workers and other upwardly mobile members of society, Steinbrück told colleagues on Sunday afternoon.
“It's not enough to fight for the interests of pensioners and Hartz IV recipients alone,” he said. “That is too narrow.”
Citing the respected former SPD Finance Minister Karl Schiller, Steinbrück stressed that Germany needed “as much market as possible and as much state as necessary” – dramatically redirecting the SPD from the generally leftward course it has adopted since getting trounced at the last election in September.
Steinbrück was Finance Minister in the former ''grand coalition'' government of the SPD and Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats. The SPD's support has languished in the past year while the environmentalist Greens have seen their backing soar.
A poll taken by the Forsa surveying firm for Handelsblatt found that 63 percent of all respondents and 75 percent of SPD supporters believed Steinbrück to be competent in economic and finance matters – putting him well ahead of other senior members of his party. Moreover, 52 percent of respondents found him to be a credible and powerful leader - a strong result given he doesn't presently hold any leadership position in his party.
Steinbrück came second to former SPD Foreign Minister and current parliamentary leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier as the party's best candidate for Chancellor, but ahead of the party's actual leader – and therefore presumed nominee at the next election – Sigmar Gabriel.