Merkel and her party have been bolstered in national polls by a relatively robust economy, low unemployment and the chancellor's hard-nosed handling of Europe's debt crisis. They also have profited from a stumbling performance by her Social Democratic challenger, Peer Steinbrueck, while the Free Democrats took much of the blame for internal government squabbling â¿¿ particularly over the party's unfulfilled demands for tax cuts.On Sunday, tactical voting by conservative supporters helped the Free Democrats easily clear the 5 percent support needed to win parliamentary seats â¿¿ which pre-election polls suggested it might not. But that weighed down the performance of Merkel's party without giving the combination enough votes to hold off the opposition.
State Loss A Blow To Merkel, But Far From Decisive
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