Campaigning in these times is no fun. Hendrik Wüst could experience it again and again: whistles, “warmonger” calls. This was also the case in the presence of CDU leader Friedrich Merz in Olpe. The Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Wüst, should achieve for Merz what Daniel Günther did with flying colors in Schleswig-Holstein: A CDU election victory in order to be able to drive and destabilize the traffic lights in the federal government.

In the only TV duel before the election, Wüst and his SPD challenger Thomas Kutschaty exchanged blows on Thursday evening – however, neither of them can match passages from the election programs to their respective parties.

Kuchaty denounces hospital closures, the SPD, on the other hand, will also keep unprofitable hospitals and maternity wards, profit thinking is the wrong approach here. Likewise, it cannot be that 5,000 teaching positions are vacant, especially in elementary schools. “That’s why we need better pay,” he says.

Wüst scores with the successes in internal security and with the model of talent schools, which has now also been copied by the SPD, with more teachers, smaller classes and better supervision and equipment in socially difficult parts of the city. An additional 600 police officers have been hired, but NRW still has the lowest police density per capita. Both are concerned whether the important steel industry can make the switch to production with hydrogen instead of fossil energy.

In a ZDF political barometer published on Thursday evening, the CDU comes to 32 percent (2017: 33.0), the SPD to 29 percent (2017: 31.2). The Greens could increase significantly to 17 percent (2017: 6.4), while the FDP with 6 percent threatens to halve their 2017 result. At that time, the FDP had brought 12.6 percent.

“There will be insane pressure from Berlin,” says a close confidante of Wüst in an interview with the Tagesspiegel. Because even if the CDU should be ahead of the SPD on Sunday, SPD top candidate Thomas Kutschaty wants to try to forge an alliance against the CDU. If the greens are not enough, the traffic light would remain an option.

The election campaign line of the SPD leadership around Lars Klingbeil is that an SPD prime minister would have a direct line to the chancellor. The subtext: He’s more likely to make money, for example when jobs need to be saved. Therefore, in the final phase, Kuchaty had posters posted of himself with Olaf Scholz. For the chancellor, it’s not just about the fact that negotiations with the Bundesrat could become easier, but also about the question of whether unity in the SPD will hold up.

In his party, they find it particularly difficult to agree to further heavy arms deliveries to Ukraine – fearing that Russian President Vladimir Putin could at some point interpret this as Germany’s entry into the war.

For weeks, Scholz and his most important ministers have had applications for the approval of the delivery of around 100 Marder tanks and 88 Leopard tanks to the Federal Security Council, but a decision has not yet been made. The approved delivery of up to 50 Gepard tanks could meanwhile fail due to a lack of ammunition. First experts suspect tactics. “The blockers are in the chancellery,” notes a representative of the armaments industry.

Scholz says on WDR: “The SPD will provide the next Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia.” With a certain tendency to arrogance, he repeatedly made Prime Minister Wüst feel what he thought of him in the federal-state meetings. But internally there is also something else to be heard: Since there is no tailwind from Berlin and election researchers do not see any change in mood, some in the SPD are already preparing for defeat.

The key question is likely to be whether it will be enough for a two-party coalition. The previous CDU-FDP government will probably no longer achieve a majority – if black and green were then enough, centrifugal forces would unfold, above all in the SPD, but also in the FDP, which, unlike the Greens, has not yet been driven by the traffic light Coalition in the federal government benefits.

And a new CDU rapprochement by the Greens could become a third centrifugal force for the alliance. Coalition partners are already reporting increasing jealousies between Christian Lindner (FDP) and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens), who is omnipresent in the media.

The economics minister annoys the finance minister and leader of the FDP, Lindner, with ever new ideas and demands. Black-green is also conceivable in Schleswig-Holstein – and if the traffic lights in the federal government come under pressure, the CDU could try to lure the FDP and Greens into a Jamaican alliance without a new election. So far, the coalition has not seemed particularly stable; many half-baked draft laws are evidence of technical problems.

The desired scenario for the SPD would be if it were enough for red-green, which would most likely pave Kuchaty’s way to power. A traffic light would be far more difficult because the FDP has so far governed well with the CDU and Wüst, especially if he were in first place and needed two partners, would claim the formation of a government through a Jamaican alliance. Much will depend on the distances on election night.

In the SPD, they register exactly how Wüst ensnares the Greens in the final phase. “I support Robert Habeck in the expansion of renewables,” he says on n-tv. During the election campaign in Cologne, he emphasized that the “damned dependency” on Russian gas had to be broken quickly, but that “people shouldn’t get too close to the skin”. Regarding the distance regulations between wind turbines and residential buildings, he says: “If desired on site, the 1000 meters can be up to 720 meters undercut.”

And there are still large areas of unused space in North Rhine-Westphalia: “One very prominent example is the former British military airport in Elmpt on the Lower Rhine. This is where the high-flyers once took off and landed, now the skylark takes off and lands there. That would be a place to build a wind farm, and I support Robert Habeck, who said he wants a new balance between expanding renewables and protecting species,” Wüst teases.

Wüst (46) and Kuchaty (53) belong to a pragmatic generation of politicians. One comes from Westphalia, the other from the Ruhr area, both are fully qualified lawyers, both party leaders.

Wüst sees himself as the heir to the liberal policies of his predecessor Armin Laschet. However, one should not forget that in 2004 he also suggested in the “Bild” newspaper that the unemployed should be compulsorily enlisted as a clearing squad for unsavory things: “Why shouldn’t the unemployed keep playgrounds clean that are often soiled with dog excrement, broken glass and drug syringes?”

Above all, he advertises the successes of the CDU: 400,000 new jobs, thousands of teachers and police officers hired, tough action against criminal clan structures. While Kutschaty relies on the chancellor, Wüst relies on his Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) as the driving force.

Kuchaty is also fighting against the past: Many have bad memories of the red-green government, especially when it comes to education, ailing transport infrastructure and internal security. After all, Kuchaty was Minister of Justice under Prime Minister Hannelore Kraft for seven years. Today he doesn’t like to talk about yesterday: “We’ll win tomorrow for you” is his motto.


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