Armin Laschet, the head of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), was long the favourite to replace her as chancellor after elections on September 26th, but his ratings have plummeted following a series of gaffes.
As the head of North Rhine-Westphalia state, one of the areas worst affected when deadly floods swept western Germany in July, Laschet was criticised for his lacklustre response to the disaster.
The 60-year-old Rhinelander was caught on camera joking with local officials during a tribute to flood victims, and was also mocked for wearing inappropriate dress shoes to the scene.
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But Merkel defended him during a visit to the city of Hagen on Sunday, telling reporters he was “leading the largest state in Germany very successfully”.
“Anyone who can lead a state like this can also lead Germany as chancellor,” Merkel said after visiting local officials leading the reconstruction effort.
The priority for the flood-damaged areas now was “for affected people to be able to live in their own four walls again soon,” said Laschet.
He also praised the volunteers helping with rebuilding and highlighted the need for financial support for the 2,000 businesses in the state that were affected by the floods, Tagesschau reported.
A 30-billion-euro aid package is set to be approved by the federal and state governments in the next few weeks, with states that weren’t affected by the floods also contributing.
READ ALSO: Why have so many died in the German floods?
Ruling parties polling badly
The CDU and the CSU, its Bavarian sister party, have seen some of their worst poll results in years as Merkel prepares to bow out of politics after 16 years in power.
One survey for the Bild daily on Sunday showed the conservative alliance on 20 percent, its worst score in the post-war period.
The bloc won 33 percent at the last election in 2017 under Merkel.
The frontrunner is now Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, whose centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) scored 25 percent in the poll.
Markus Söder, the head of the Bavarian CSU, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper the poor poll results were “very serious” for the conservative alliance.
In a bid to boost his fortunes, Laschet on Friday introduced eight allies who would serve as ministers or advisors on issues including renewable energy, digitalisation and helping the ailing arts sector in the pandemic.
He also accompanied Merkel on Friday to the flood-stricken village of Altenahr in Rhineland-Palatinate state.
Merkel said she would continue to appear alongside Laschet on the campaign trail and insisted her fellow party member “knows he has my support”.