German chancellor squares off with challengers
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was to square off Monday with his challengers in their last debate before Germany's election, as a new poll showed his Social Democrats continuing to edge forward, the Associated Press reported.
The ARD television debate pits Schroeder and his Greens party ally Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer against conservative Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber, the head of her party's Bavaria-only sister group, the Christian Social Union.
Guido Westerwelle, the head of the pro-business Free Democrats, and Gregor Gysi, co-leader of the new Left Party, complete the slate.
Merkel hopes to form a center-right coalition with the Free Democrats, but polls over the past week have shown them falling just short of a majority of votes.
Meanwhile, Schroeder's Social Democrats have clawed back support after a head-to-head televised debate with Merkel September 4, in which most observers said Schroeder was the better performer.
A poll released Monday by the Forsa agency and carried out over the course of last week put support for the chancellor's party at 35 percent _ up one percentage point from a poll carried out last Monday and Tuesday, immediately after the debate.
The Christian Democrats and CSU were unchanged at 42 percent, with the Free Democrats also static at 6 percent.
Schroeder's current allies, the Greens, were unchanged at 7 percent, while the survey found that support for the Left Party dropped by one point to 7 percent. The new party is a combination of ex-communists and former Social Democrats angered by Schroeder's efforts to reform the welfare state.
Forsa, which surveyed 2,504 people, gave a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
With neither the current coalition nor Merkel's preferred combination now holding a majority less than a week before Sunday's vote, speculation is rising that Merkel will have to turn to Schroeder's party to form a "grand coalition."