German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats delivered a crushing blow to her centre-left rivals in a bellwether state election yesterday.
The vote was seen as a test for Mrs Merkel, who faces a general election in September. But that failed to translate into votes in the last two state elections, when the CDU won comfortably.
The conservatives' improbable come-from-behind triumph in heavily industrial North Rhine-Westphalia, long a bastion for the Social Democratic party and home to almost a quarter of Germany's voters, gave the chancellor a powerful gust of tailwind just four months before the federal election on September 24.
"We are going into the national elections with a lot of confidence", said lawmaker Michael Grosse-Broemer, who heads the CDU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, noting that the latest win gave the party further "tailwind".
"The defeat of the Social Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia and their candidate for Chancellor Martin Schulz is particularly painful".
For Merkel, it's a vindication of her two-prong approach in North Rhine Westphalia.
"The CDU has won the heartland of the Social Democrats", said the conservatives' general secretary, Peter Tauber, calling it a great day.
The likeliest outcome is a "grand coalition" of the biggest parties under Laschet, since various other possible combinations were rejected by at least one potential partner before the election.
Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats have toppled the Social Democrats from their traditional stronghold in North Rhine-Westphalia.
A total of 13 million out of North Rhine-Westphalia's population of 18 million were eligible to vote in Sunday's election.
Armin Laschet (R), regional leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party celebrates with supporters on the evening of the election in German federal state North Rhine-Westpahlia in Duesseldorf, Germany, 14 May 2017.
He said Europe's most powerful leader was a safe choice in a turbulent world shaped by Britain's exit from the European Union and an unpredictable White House under US President Donald Trump.
But Germany's best-selling daily Bild noted that "with the clear state election failures, it would be very hard for the SPD to win the general elections in September".
Merkel is already the longest-serving chancellor in Germany and the longest-serving country leader in post-war Europe.
"I take personal responsibility for this defeat.", she said. This means that the anti-immigrant party will now be present in 13 out of Germany's 16 state parliaments.
She also urged voters to look at her government's economic record - with 7.5 per cent unemployment, the state fares worse than the national rate of 5.8 per cent, she said.
"The issue of fairness is, of course, very important but I am convinced that the Social Democrats are struggling with the concept of innovation and are getting things the wrong way round", she said.
They have sought to portray Kraft's state government as slack on security and also criticized its handling of education and infrastructure projects.