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Cablegate: Nrw Election Chess Game Ii: Ruettgers Castles His Rook

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DE RUEHDF #0014/01 0551704
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R 241702Z FEB 10
FM AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0004
INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
FRG COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DUSSELDORF 000014

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV GM
SUBJECT: NRW Election Chess Game II: Ruettgers Castles His Rook

REF: DUSSELDORF 12

1. (U) Summary: North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) Minister-President
(M-P) Juergen Ruettgers, tried to quickly mend political damage
from his party's financing scandal by announcing February 23 his
close advisor Andreas Krautscheid as the new NRW Christian
Democratic Union (CDU) Secretary-General, the chief organizer of
his re-election campaign. Ruettgers' speed in naming a replacement
for Hendrik Wuest, who took the hit and stepped down February 22
(see reftel), indicates recognition of the increasingly serious
situation that he and the party are in following the revelations of
the past weekend. The mood in the election campaign in NRW has
shifted dramatically in just a few days, opening up the real
possibility of a loss by the CDU- Free Democrats (FDP) governing
coalition. End Summary.

Krautscheid Takes One for the Team

--------------------------------------------

2. (U) Ruettgers named Krautscheid to succeed Wuest following a
financing scandal that has thrown the CDU's election campaign for
the May 9 state parliament elections into disarray. Krautscheid, a
long-time close confidant of Ruettgers, will, in effect, take a
leave of absence from his post as NRW Minister for European and
Federal Affairs to take up the management of the CDU campaign. He
had been talked about as first in line to become the new floor
leader of the CDU parliamentary group in the NRW state parliament
after an assumed election victory. His focus now becomes salvaging
the CDU's chances of staying in power.

3. (U) Krautscheid (49) has had extensive political experience at
both the state and national levels, as well as a seven-year stint
as a senior manager in the private sector. He started his
political career at national CDU headquarters in Bonn, where he
served as deputy national spokesman in the early 1990s before being
elected to the Bundestag in 1994. Although a freshman, he quickly
made a name for himself as a combative debater in parliament and as
a member of the so-called "pizza connection" in the Bundestag, a
group of young CDU and Greens parliamentarians who regularly met
informally to exchange views. (Note: Other CDU members of this
unusual group were Norbert Roettgen, now Federal Environmental
Affairs Minister, Hermann Groehe, now national CDU
Secretary-General, and Armin Laschet, now NRW Integration Minister.
End note.) After narrowly losing his re-election bid in the wake
of Kohl's defeat in 1998, Krautscheid worked in the private sector,
before Ruettgers made him NRW chief government spokesman in 2006
and appointed him to his cabinet in 2007, where he quickly became
one of Ruettgers' closest associates. (He just recently accompanied
Ruettgers on his snowed under trip to the U.S.) Groehe welcomed
Krautscheid's new appointment, calling it a "wise decision," and
terming him a "trump card in the election campaign."

How Bad is the Damage?

------------------------------

4. (SBU) News of Krautscheid's new job spread quickly on Tuesday
evening. At an event in Duesseldorf, the CG talked with a senior
official at the NRW State Chancellery, who confirmed that the mood
around the M-P's office was severely affected by the four-day-old
scandal. He believed the M-P was unaware of the sale of
appointments, but thought the M-P's proclaimed ignorance would not
help with the voters. This scandal, he said, has grabbed the
public's attention to a degree others have not: it boils down to
the credibility of the state's top elected official, access, and
money at a time of sustained economic hardship. Our source also
said that the public mood is turning against the M-P, noting that
he listened to a radio call-in show that morning where callers were
railing against the apparent fact that wealthy donors had easier
access to Ruettgers than the average citizen. Those around the M-P
believe that if the CDU does not end up back in the government
after the May election, this scandal would unquestionably be the
event responsible for the loss.

Comment

-------------

DUSSELDORF 00000014 002 OF 002


5. (SBU) Comment: The mood surrounding this upcoming election
has changed quickly from one of presumed easy victory for the
CDU-FDP coalition to one of the CDU in crisis, with the expectation
that anything is now possible. Ruettgers' pulling of Krautscheid
from his cabinet duties to run the campaign represents the next
move in the election chess game for the CDU, as the M-P tries to
salvage his re-election chances by bring one of his closest, most
experienced and media-savvy allies to the center of the game. For
her part NRW Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Hannelore Kraft
is keeping a low profile so far as she prepares for her party's
election convention this weekend, letting the affair take its own
course. New polls on the election are expected towards the end of
this week or early next week. Important will be how the CDU and
the FDP - now at about 6% -- fare. If they show a dramatic drop,
2-4% or so, for the CDU (currently hovering between 36-41% in the
polls), the possibility for a change in the governing coalition in
NRW becomes real. The NRW elections are widely viewed as a litmus
test for the national CDU-FDP coalition, which has gotten off to a
rocky start with no real improvement in sight. A loss of a CDU-FDP
majority in NRW would mean not only a loss of a CDU-FDP majority in
the Bundesrat, but would be seen as a political blow to the
national coalition. End comment.

6. (U) This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.
WEINER

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