It is decision day in Germany’s most populous state where voters appear set to deliver a heavy blow to the ruling Social Democrats.The SPD, led locally by Peer Steinbrueck, has controlled the parliament of North Rhine/Westphalia for four decades. But soaring unemployment in the state is costing the party dearly. Throughout the campaign polls have consistently suggested voters are switching allegience to the Christian Democrats under the leadership of Juergen Ruettgers. Commentators said Steinbrueck got the better of Ruettgers in two televised debates but that appears not to have turned around the SPD’s fortunes. It is a reflection of the nationwide unpopularity of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s hard-hitting reforms. In the country’s traditional industrial heartland the measures, including benefit cuts, have so far done little to stimulate growth and create jobs. Defeat in what has been a bastion of the SPD would be the most troubling in a series electoral setbacks for Schroeder, who faces a general election next year.
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