BERLIN — In his first run for chancellor, Christian Democrat Armin Laschet risks losing the office that Angela Merkel held tight for conservatives for 16 years.
So a day before the nation’s most competitive election in almost two decades, Merkel joined him on the campaign trail one last time to stump for her would-be successor.
For voters who believe it makes little difference who the next chancellor is, Merkel sold Laschet as a leader who, like herself, will be a steady hand at the tiller of Europe’s largest economy.
“I can say from experience that in the political life of a chancellor, there are points at which it’s anything but irrelevant who governs,” Merkel said Saturday in a packed square in Laschet’s home town of Aachen, a city on the western edge of the republic that was once the seat of power for Charlemagne.
With voters signaling a desire for change, Germany’s long-time leader is looking to salvage her own legacy after sitting on the sidelines for most of the campaign. Laschet revived the specter of a possible Social Democratic-led alliance under Olaf Scholz with the anti-capitalist Left party, saying voters “need to use these final hours” to ensure a leftward tilt doesn’t happen.
The election’s unexpected front-runner, Scholz made his official closing pitch on Friday to voters in Cologne, long a bastion for the SPD. On Saturday he appeared in Potsdam with local officials.
“We want a new beginning, a government led by the SPD,” Scholz told a crowd in central Cologne, the largest city in North Rhine-Westphalia, where Laschet has governed as state premier since 2017.
He drew applause by pledging guaranteed pension levels and a hike in the minimum wage. The finance minister claimed credit for his part in shepherding Germany through the pandemic, helped by 400 billion euros ($468 billion) in spending. He also blasted Laschet for promising to cut taxes.
Laschet, 60, also campaigned with Merkel in Munich on Friday. The chancellor urged party supporters to reach out to wavering voters in the final 50 hours.
While Merkel hammers a steady-as-she-goes message, Germany’s shift in recent months to a “change” election from a continuity ballot comes as Europe’s largest economy stands at an inflection point.