The polls showed the SPD coming in second, garnering 31.5 percent of the vote in its stronghold state, down over 7 points from the last election in 2012.
The business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), which is looking to re-enter the German parliament this fall, came in third in NRW, taking 12.6 percent of the vote.
The populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will also enter North Rhine-Westphalia’s parliament for the first time, picking up 7.4 percent.
The Green party, currently the junior coalition partner to the SPD, took a massive hit, dropping down to 6.2 percent.
The chances of the Left party clearing the 5 percent hurdle to enter the state parliament look grim, with the latest results showing the party at 4.8 percent.
“This is a great day for North Rhine-Westphalia,” said the CDU’s top candidate Armin Laschet (pictured), who will most likely become the next state premier. “We accomplished our two goals: defeating the SPD-Greens coalition and becoming the strongest party in the state.”
Voter turnout was markedly higher than four years prior, officials said, with 65.5 percent turning out to cast their ballots.
SPD’s Schulz effect ‘derailed’
Following the results, NRW’s state premier Hannelore Kraft (pictured below) stepped down as both the state leader and state SPD party chief. She said she took full responsibility for her party’s defeat in Sunday’s election.
“I gave it my best. I am convinced that for the past seven years, step by step, we have helped this state move forward,” Kraft said in the state capital Düsseldorf. “This was a committed election, but it wasn’t enough.”
“We couldn’t gain the trust of voters,” she added.
Martin Schulz, the SPD’s chancellor candidate looking to unseat Merkel in the national election in September, weighed in on his party’s defeat, saying: “This is a hard day for the SPD and for me personally. I hail from the state where we just suffered a crushing election defeat.” Support for the SPD surged following the announcement of Schulz’s candidacy earlier this year, but the so-called “Schulz effect” had tapered off in recent months.
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