"Angie" Rocks The Vote

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LOOKING UP: After a faltering start, Merkel's campaign skills are improving

Angela Merkel has been speaking for about 45 minutes to a Dresden campaign rally of some 2,000 people. She's not much of an orator, but her listeners are attentive as they munch sausages and drink beer in the sunshine. Even a group dressed up as cows — holding signs that say don't milk us! to protest her proposed increase to value-added tax ( vat) — are as docile as, well, cattle. Merkel has defended the unpopular policy, meant to fund a reduction in social-security contributions from wages, by arguing that "people don't earn too much in Germany, but because of the nonwage costs the cost of labor is too high." "We're not making any promises we can't keep," she assures the Dresden crowd. "We're just telling you in plain and simple language what we're going to do." As she finishes, the strains of the Rolling Stones' 1973 hit Angie fill the air.

The song has become Merkel's theme tune in a campaign that has her Christian Democratic Union (cdu) and its Bavarian sister party, the csu, 14 points ahead of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Social Democratic Party (spdYet the polls also show two other trends: a surprisingly large number of Germans say they don't know who they will vote for on Sept. 18, and in personal popularity ratings Schröder bests Merkel by 51% to 35%. According to a survey by Germany's Forsa Institute, the cdu/csu leads the spd 43% to 29%, but almost half of voters have yet to make up their minds. If the waverers are enticed to spdspd defectors and former communists — the center-right cdu/csu may not win a big enough majority to govern with the Free Democrats (fdp). That could force Merkel's and Schröder's parties into a grand coalition, potentially leading to a stalemate on economic reform.

In the first few weeks of campaigning, Merkel and the cdu made some amateurish mistakes, appearing divided and, at times, muddled. Even the choice of theme song doesn't seem to have been thought through. The Rolling Stones are startled to hear that the track from their album Goats Head Soup has been pressed into service. "We didn't grant permission," a spokesman for the musicians told Time. "We are surprised that permission was not requested. If it had been requested, we would have said no." A spokesman for the cdu says the party cleared usage of excerpts from the song with the German music-distribution rights regulator, gema. "We checked with gema and what we are doing is correct," he says.

If Merkel and her cohorts haven't been getting much satisfaction in the first weeks of the campaign, they have only themselves to blame. Michael Spreng, who managed csu chairman Edmund Stoiber's failed attempt to topple Schröder three years ago, says Merkel's first few weeks have been "characterized by a series of blunders." Merkel has inflicted some of the damage herself — through lackluster performances in interviews and by her confusion, on two separate occasions, of the accounting concepts of "net" and "gross." But some of the most serious gaffes have been made by her party colleagues, offending voters in the east whose support for the Linksbündnis could prove decisive. Earlier this month Stoiber caused an uproar when he complained about the influence of east German voters. Merkel, an easterner herself, handled the furore deftly, praising east Germans for their huge effort to rebuild their economy and society after the fall of the Wall. Ruth Kranz, 37, a teacher from Wolfhagen, near Kassel, intends to vote for Merkel but marvels at the disarray: "It almost looks like Stoiber and the other cdu/csu men want to prevent Merkel from becoming Chancellor. Otherwise, how can you explain such a dumb move?"
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