17 May, 2017
It is also the home state of Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat seeking to deny Merkel a fourth term in the September 24 election.
While Schulz now holds no public office besides SPD chief and thus has no natural platform beyond the stump, Merkel'office provides her with the best stage to burnish her reputation as Germany's Stabilitätsanker (anchor of stability) in an unstable world.
But suggesting his campaign's emphasis may be broadening, Schulz told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday evening that while "we have managed to mobilize many people with the topic of justice, people are also asking us, 'what else is coming?'" Party leader Martin Schulz said it was a "hard day".
Kraft immediately announced her resignation from all party offices late 14 May after the bad results of the SPD in the federal state elections of North Rhine-Westphalia.
But he urged the party to concentrate now on the national election.
Merkel wasn't the only clear victor of Sunday's vote.
The land election in North Rhine - Westphalia called "small universal" or dress rehearsal for a vote on September 24, when Germany will elect a new Bundestag, and he then - Chancellor. She resigned as her party's regional leader. The SPD's national leader and its candidate for chancellor in the September election, Martin Schulz, was equally gloomy.
Schulz defiantly asserted that the SPD is a party that knows how to fight back and noted, "The federal elections are still a long way off". Home to Germany's Ruhr region of industry and coal mining, as well as several of the nation's biggest cities, North Rhine Westphalia is considered to be an SPD stronghold. The SPD aims to increase the number of new police recruits each year to 2,300 from 1,100 in 2010, Kraft said, in a state with more cities than other regions, which makes it more vulnerable to crime.
Mr Schulz, who was president of the European Parliament from 2012 to 2017, looked to be mounting a significant threat to Ms Merkel's leadership a few months ago, but his campaign has fallen off a cliff.
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The nationalist Alternative for Germany won 7.4%, giving it seats in its 13th state legislature.
The Free Democratic Party (FDP), Germany's liberals, fared significantly better with around 12 percent of the votes and are already claiming a comeback on the national political stage, according to its chairman Christian Lindner.
That would mirror Merkel's national government, in which the Social Democrats are the junior partners.
The party is banking its hopes on incumbent state premier Hannelore Kraft, 55, who secured 39.1 percent in a 2012 vote, while the CDU clinched just over 26 percent.
National polls show the Social Democrats trailing Merkel's conservatives by up to 10 points after drawing level earlier this year.
"We couldn't gain the trust of voters", she added.
The AfD is now represented in 13 states across Germany.
With three consecutive CDU victories in state election since March, Merkel heads toward the summer with a tailwind.