Chancellor Candidates Debate; Schroeder Wins Face-Off against Merkel in Polls

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Byline: David Crossland, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BERLIN - German conservative leader Angela Merkel delivered a robust performance in a televised election debate with media-savvy Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder yesterday, robbing him of what may prove to be his last chance to catch up in voter surveys two weeks ahead of a national election.

Snap opinion polls released immediately after the debate showed viewers saw Mr. Schroeder, known for his media skills, as the clear winner of the 90-minute face-off, the only U.S.-style confrontation between the two in the campaign.

But Mrs. Merkel, who had fluffed her lines in recent interviews and at times appears uncomfortable in public, managed to exceed expectations by starting a fluent array of attacks that, at times, took Mr. Schroeder aback.

"In contrast with the chancellor, I have the backing of my party for a course of modernization," she said. "Breaking promises has become the trademark of your government."

A snap poll of 1,219 viewers by the Electoral Research Group for ZDF Television showed 48 percent thought Mr. Schroeder performed better in the debate, while 28 percent favored Mrs. Merkel. However, 54 percent of viewers thought Mrs. Merkel was better than they had expected, compared with 18 percent for Mr. Schroeder.

"Merkel profited from her underdog role, and 40 percent of viewers said they had a better view of Merkel after the show than they did before," Matthias Jung of the Electoral Research Group told ZDF Television.

"I was surprised by Merkel. She delivered a strong rhetorical performance," said Richard Schuetze, director of Ipse Communication, a consultancy that coaches politicians and businesspeople in how to handle the media. …