Schroeder Tightens Challenger's Lead; Close Race with Merkel Raises Prospect of Power-Sharing, Gridlock

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Byline: David Crossland, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BERLIN - Germany's political race has tightened, with polls showing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder within six or seven points of conservative challenger Angela Merkel, though few think he can catch up before the election Sunday.

A poll released Saturday by the Emnid survey group showed Mr. Schroeder's center-left Social Democrats (SDP) with 34.5 percent support and Mrs. Merkel's conservative alliance with 40.5 percent. The poll was in line other major surveys.

Such a result could force the winner to share power in a "grand coalition" of the two biggest parties. Such an outcome could lead to policy gridlock in the world's third-largest economy.

As the contest tightens, the gloves have come off.

"You're history, Herr Chancellor," Mrs. Merkel told Mr. Schroeder during a parliamentary debate last week in which the two accused each other of lying to the electorate.

Mr. Schroeder's fourth wife, Doris, said Mrs. Merkel didn't embody the experience of most women because she never had children, and accused her of failing to help working mothers during her time as family minister in the 1990s.

A tireless campaigner, Mr. Schroeder, 61, has been leaping onto stages in market squares across the country, punching the air, making victory signs and exhorting listeners not to hand power to a woman whose reforms would plunge the country into "social coldness."

One commentator in the country's best-selling newspaper, Bild, likened the chancellor to a bloodied boxer stumbling around the ring and refusing to give up.

Mr. Schroeder told Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper Friday: "I don't deny the other side is still ahead in opinion polls. …