31 March, 2017
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which bruised Merkel in regional elections a year ago after her decision in 2015 to open Germany's doors to migrants from the Middle East, won 6.2 percent of the vote in Saarland.
In Saarland, recent polls had indicated a narrow lead for the CDU, but there had also been predictions that a coalition between the SPD, the far-left Linke and the environmentalist Greens may emerge.
A deputy leader of Mrs Merkel's party said the Saarland win gives the conservatives "tail wind" for the upcoming elections, but refused to take anything for granted.
An election in the German state of Saarland is being closely watched for signs of how Chancellor Angela Merkel might do in September's national poll.
Polls in two states holding elections in May show the CDU trailing the SPD, offering Schulz a possible boost before the national campaign's endgame in August and September.
State Premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer took office in 2011 and since 2012 has been in a "grand coalition" with the SDP (mirroring arrangements at the national level).More news: Judge Okays $97 Million Settlement to Replace Flint's Water Lines
"For Merkel, this is a positive start into the election year and should help to calm the mood within her alliance of Christian parties", said Carsten Nickel, a risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in Brussels.
"It will be a hard election campaign and we have every chance", she added.
She called the state election the day before "encouraging" and "great".
Schulz conspicuously ducked questions about uneasiness over the SPD's relationship with the Left Party, which draws most of its support from eastern Germany and is often viewed with distrust in the West. During his visit to Brussels last month, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a fuzzy ultimatum that the United States would "moderate" its commitments to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation if allies didn't boost their defense expenditures. Sunday's results in Saarland were certainly disappointing for the SPD, but the elections were admittedly very, very close.
He said: "We have tail wind, but we haven't won anything yet". Kipping sought to deflect blame to the Social Democrats for not coming out more clearly in support of a change in power in Saarland.
The Greens did not meet the 5 percent threshold required to enter the state assembly.