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Germany's Merkel Sets Stage For 2013 Elections

By DAVID RISING

BERLIN (AP) â¿¿ Chancellor Angela Merkel launched her bid for re-election Tuesday, telling party faithful her government has successfully steered Germany through the worst of the European financial crisis and is best equipped to guide it through what may still be tough times ahead.

Speaking at her Christian Democratic Union's party congress in Hannover, she noted that unemployment in Germany is down, the economy is still growing while others in Europe are stagnating or shrinking, and that the deficit has been reduced.

"We have guided Germany out of the crisis stronger than Germany entered the crisis," she said to a cheering audience.

In a nod to her struggling coalition Free Democratic Party partners, she said "in these times no coalition could lead our country better."

"This government is the most successful government since reunification," she said.

Party members gave Merkel's record a resounding endorsement after her speech, re-electing her as the CDU leader with a landslide majority of 98 percent of the vote. Merkel has led the party since 2000 and has governed Europe's biggest economy as the country's first female chancellor since 2005.

Nationally, Recent polls show Merkel's personally far more popular than Peer Steinbrueck, the main opposition Social Democratic Party's candidate for chancellor.

But they also indicate a tight race between the preferred coalition governments of both parties. A Dec. 1 poll for Bild newspaper showed Merkel's CDU and Bavarian-only sister CSU with 38 percent support and the FDP with 4 percent â¿¿ for 42 percent total â¿¿ versus 28 percent support for the SPD and 14 percent for the Greens â¿¿ also 42 percent.

The poll conducted by the Emnid agency had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

The FDP numbers are worrisome, as they're below the 5 percent needed to get into Parliament, but elections are 10 months away and with support for Merkel's own party far above the others, the chancellor is in a comfortable position for the 2013 election at the moment, said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University.

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