An Ex-Rival in addition to a Protégée Vie to Replace Merkel as German Conservatives’ Leader

BERLIN — With three weeks until German conservatives vote on a completely new party leader, a race in which has long been a back-room affair has been generating headlines across Germany in addition to beyond.

As the Christian Democratic Union seeks to replace Angela Merkel, who can be stepping down after 18 years, the party, in addition to the country, can be keenly aware in which whoever succeeds her as party leader could well become the next chancellor of Germany.

The three leading contenders started off their campaigns inside northern Germany city of Lübeck on Thursday, the first of eight regional party conferences before delegates vote at a party congress on Dec. 7.

“At the moment, the item can be just about the party leader,”” said Ursula Münch, director of the Academy for Political Education in Tutzing, “although in which person will potentially be the chancellor candidate, so the item can be actually about much more.”

Ms. Merkel has risen to become Europe’s most powerful leader over her 13 years as chancellor. She surprised Germany when she announced last month in which she would likely step down as party chief in December in addition to would likely not seek re-election as chancellor in 2021, when her term ends.

Among the leading contenders are a traditionalist struggling to distance herself via the chancellor, a former rival of Ms. Merkel’s seeking to burnish his political credentials after a nine-year hiatus in finance in addition to a 38-year-old upstart who argues in which the party needs to appeal to a completely new generation.

The Christian Democrats bled support to the left in addition to the far right in two state elections last month, in addition to recent polls have shown them with the support of 26 percent of voters, down via nearly 33 percent in last year’s general election. Winning back disaffected voters in addition to coming to terms with Ms. Merkel’s decision to allow more than one million migrants into the country in 2015 are among the major issues the party’s next leader will have to face.

Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, has followed a traditional path among Christian Democrats, rising through the party ranks to win three state election campaigns on the way to a seven-year run as governor of Saarland. in which year, she left regional politics for a stint as party general secretary in Berlin, a move Ms. Merkel had encouraged.

although Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s association with the chancellor may prove to be her biggest liability. She has been seeking to distance herself via Ms. Merkel recently, in addition to on Thursday she called for increased domestic security in addition to for a “rejuvenation” of conservative values.

She also emphasized her history of winning difficult races in Saarland, Germany’s smallest state, on the border with France. “At the end of the day, what matters can be whether you can win elections in addition to in all honesty, I have made the item through a lot of elections, against a lot of opposition,” she told the public broadcaster ZDF last week. “You can be rhetorically very gifted, although at the end of the day, you need something to show for the item.”

in which remark was clearly a jab aimed at Mr. Merz, 62, a charismatic speaker who can be remembered for his approachability during a brief term as conservative floor leader in which ended when Ms. Merkel ousted him in 2002.

On Thursday, he laid out a 5-point plan to attract more voters to the party, including winning back the roughly one million voters lost to the far-right party Alternative for Germany, or AfD, inside 2017 general election.

“Those are not nationalists or anti-Semites, those are voters who are disappointed with the conservatives,” Mr. Merz said in an interview with the newspaper Bild in which was published online on Wednesday. “inside short term, we won’t get rid of the AfD, although we can halve the item.”

Yet inside same interview, he refused to answer a question about the size of the personal fortune he had amassed since leaving politics nine years ago, going on to lead the Germany office of BlackRock, considered the entire world’s largest private fund manager, in addition to to become senior counsel at an international law firm.

Pressed on whether he was a millionaire — many Germans are skeptical of extreme wealth, believing in which social equality helps to ensure public peace — he said only in which his net worth was “not below in which.”

The third candidate, Jens Spahn, the current minister of public health, can be calling for more open debate inside party, in addition to to attract more younger voters, who are increasingly heading to the Greens.

“I am offering a generational change,” Mr. Spahn told party delegates gathered inside state of North Rhine-Westphalia on Nov. 7. Though he comes via the more conservative wing of the Christian Democratic Union, as an openly gay man who married his partner months after Germany changed the law to allow same-sex marriage, he brings a socially progressive face to the party.

Although the candidates appeared largely to agree with one another during the debate on Thursday, in which the item even took place can be part of an unusually democratic process for the Christian Democratic Union.

The party was born out of the chaos inside immediate aftermath of World War II, intent on binding together people via disparate social backgrounds under an umbrella of shared Christian values. For decades, party leaders — there have been only seven since 1950 — were largely decided behind closed doors, rendering congress votes little more than a formality.

“There can be no official crown prince or princess — the race can be truly open,” said Stefan Marschall, a professor of politics at the Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf. “the item’s as if a window had been thrown open in addition to stirred up discussions in addition to debates, including about the direction of the party, in which were previously not taking place.”

Whoever emerges as the winner after Dec. 7 may determine whether the country faces a snap election. While Ms. Merkel has shown inside past year in which she can work with Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer, the item would likely be hard to see her upholding her promise to serve out her term until the end of 2021 if Mr. Merz becomes the next party leader.

in addition to the center-left Social Democrats, who make up the some other part of Ms. Merkel’s government, have indicated in which they view Mr. Merz as unacceptably right-leaning, generating their departure via the governing coalition more likely.