17 May, 2017
That gave the party, with which Mrs Merkel governed Germany from 2009 to 2013, a strong base for its drive to return to the national parliament in September after it was ejected four years ago.
"He has no public office and has been hardly visible", political scientist Oskar Niedermayer told dpa, adding that the new SPD leader remained too vague and undefined.
So although the concrete issues that shaped this election were primarily regional - such as schools, transport and security - this state also matters nationally. The region of 17.9 million, almost a quarter of Germany's population, includes Cologne, Duesseldorf and the Ruhr industrial area. "I take personal responsibility for this defeat.", she said.
"The German wave" with reference to the first exit poll reports that the CDU gaining 34.5% of the vote, while the social Democrats and 30.5%.
It was not clear whether the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the CDU's preferred partners projected to win 12 per cent, had enough votes for the two allies to form a majority in the state.
The CDU received 33 percent of the votes, 6.7 percentage points more than in the previous election in 2012.
The populist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is also looking to secure a spot in the NRW state parliament, which would see the party enter 13 out of Germany's 16 state parliaments.
The second victor was the charismatic, 38-year-old leader of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), Christian Lindner, his party's top candidate in the state.
In the state's last election in 2012, the Social Democrats beat the CDU by 39.1 percent to 26.3 percent.More news: Government needs a good shutdown, tweets frustrated Trump
Tauber noted that the main reasons behind the victory of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia was the strategy demonstrated by the CDU team in the most important areas for the region, such as "internal security, erroneous infrastructure and educational policy".
"It's a hard day for the SPD, a hard day for me personally", Schulz told supporters in Berlin.
SPD leader Martin Schulz acknowledged that a loss in his home state is devastating for the party's chances.
Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz (C) speaks after the publication of the preliminary results of the regional elections in the West German state of North Rhine-Westphalia at the headquarters of the SPD in Berlin on May 14, 2017. "I am convinced that for the past seven years, step by step, we have helped this state move forward", Kraft said in the state capital, Düsseldorf.
She had urged voters to look at her government's economic record, noting that with 7.5% unemployment, the state fares worse than the national rate of 5.8%.
Social democrats have ruled this region since 1966 with only one five-year-exception.
Yesterday's result could now pave the way for the state's first ever coalition between the CDU and the SPD under the 56-year-old Laschet.
Martin Schulz said Monday that "until the general election on September 24 we have a long and stony road ahead of us".