Chancellor Schroeder gained support during TV debate

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's party clawed back some support following his televised debate last weekend with opposition leader Angela Merkel, a poll showed Wednesday as the German leader and his conservative challenger clashed in their last parliamentary encounter before the Sept. 18 election.

The poll by the Forsa institute showed Merkel's preferred alliance of her Christian Democrats with the pro-business Free Democrats just short of a majority after Schroeder, a skilled debater, performed strongly in Sunday's encounter, deepening uncertainty over what coalition will emerge, the AP says.

It showed support for Schroeder's Social Democrats rose by three points from last week to 34 percent, while the Christian Democrats were down a point at 42 percent. The Free Democrats were down a point to 6 percent, underlining the possibility that Merkel could be forced into a "grand coalition" with Schroeder's party.

"The Social Democrats clearly succeeded in winning back some of the undecided Social Democratic voters as a result of the good impression Gerhard Schroeder gave in the TV duel," Forsa head Manfred Guellner said.

"If this development stabilizes, things will get tight" for Merkel's hopes of a center-right coalition, he said.

The poll of 1,030 people, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points, gave Schroeder's coalition partner, the Greens, 7 percent. It put support for the Left Party, an alliance of ex-communists and former Social Democrats alienated by Schroeder's efforts to reform the welfare state, was down one point at 8 percent.

Merkel has sought this week to convince voters that only a center-right government will be able to push forward reform of Germany's labor market and revitalize the economy. She also has talked up the possibility, rejected by all parties concerned, of a three-way alliance between the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party.

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