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Cablegate: Spd Left-Wing Prevails / Ypsilanti to Challenge Koch

DE RUEHFT #8092 3381527
R 041527Z DEC 06






E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: SPD Left-wing Prevails / Ypsilanti to Challenge Koch

REF: Frankfurt 7910

Sensitive but unclassified; not for Internet distribution.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: At the Hesse SPD/Social Democratic Party state
convention December 2, party chairperson Andrea Ypsilanti edged out
centrist Caucus Chief Juergen Walter for the right to challenge
Hesse Minister-President Roland Koch (CDU/Christian Democrats) in
January 2008. Walter, who had won in local straw polls and tied in
the first official ballot, narrowly lost to the more established
Ypsilanti. Koch remains a heavy favorite against left-wing
flag-bearer Ypsilanti -- especially given this weekend's show of
disarray -- but with more than 13 months until state elections, she
could close the gap. END SUMMARY.

Ypsilanti in Words

2. (U) Ypsilanti -- known throughout Germany for her opposition to
the former Schroeder government's "Agenda 2010" reform program --
focused on what she called "soft topics" (social policy, the family,
and education) which Koch's conservative administration had
neglected in favor of focusing on the economy. As a single working
mother, Ypsilanti said, she draws on personal experience of family
needs in education and the economy. In one of several references to
French presidential candidate and mother-of-four Segolene Royal, she
endorsed Royal's phrase "I know life so I know politics."
Acknowledging her own left-wing record, Ypsilanti argued that voters
want a clear choice and respect a politician with the courage of her
convictions. Walter, normally a stronger debater than Ypsilanti,
struggled to match her personal appeal and connection with the party
base. (NOTE: A Consulate representative attended the convention -

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A Photo Finish

3. (SBU) The charismatic, pro-business Walter came into the
convention the slight favorite, having won 18 of 26 straw polls at
regional party organizations. The two candidates tied in the first
official ballot (172:172), but Ypsilanti prevailed narrowly in the
second ballot (175:165). After the vote, SPD national Chairman Kurt
Beck praised Ypsilanti but struggled to adapt a speech evidently
written for Walter's expected victory. The SPD's disarray was
highlighted by subsequent board elections, where Ypsilanti faired
worse than Walter (77.95% versus 85.9%).

What It Means for 2008

4. (SBU) Tainted by ties to left-wing unionists and activists,
insiders see Ypsilanti's victory over Walter as a boon for the
conservative Koch in January 2008 state elections. In reality, it
is too early to count the SPD out: the CDU (elected in 1999 and
with an absolute majority since 2003) bears sole political
responsibility for the state's economy and for an education system
that still compares unfavorably with neighboring states. Koch is a
formidable candidate but has political vulnerabilities including
campaign funding improprieties (reftel). In the meantime, the Hesse
SPD -- a party divided exactly in half, as demonstrated this weekend
-- has its work cut out for it.


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