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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany's SPD Shifts Gear for Fight

BERLIN -- Slipping in the polls and beaten for the presidency, Germany's opposition Social Democrats have come to a crossroads in their bid to unseat veteran Chancellor Helmut Kohl in October. SPD leader Rudolf Scharping's bitter outburst after his candidate lost the presidential election on Monday revealed more than just the poor loser that Kohl promptly accused him of being, political analysts and editorial writers say. His shrill attack on the liberal Free Democrats, the potential coalition partner that backed Kohl's victorious prot?g? Roman Herzog, signaled the end of the cautiously centrist course Scharping has followed for months. A much more outspoken SPD should emerge in coming months, fighting both against the Greens on its left and the FDP to its right in a determined bid to overtake Kohl's Christian Democrats as the largest party on Oct. 16. "The SPD really believed it could cooperate with the FDP, but the presidential election has smashed this myth," said Thomas Leif, co-author of the newly published book "Rudolf Scharping, the SPD and Power." "It will now come out and fight on several fronts." Bernd Schoppe, head of the SPD's planning staff, said the somewhat lackluster first phase of Scharping's campaign would give way at a party congress in late June to a more open drive to stress the need for change in Germany. "In the early 1970s, Willy Brandt had a campaign slogan that said: 'To live safely tomorrow, fight for reforms today.' That is the philosophy of this campaign." The shift in gears may not be easy. Scharping has until now spent all his energies steering the SPD onto a centrist course, hoping to prise the FDP away from its 11-year-long coalition with Kohl. After Monday's election, he all but admitted this strategy was dead by railing against the Free Democrats as opportunists who had lost all traces of their earlier liberal conscience. But the SPD's other possible partner, the leftist Greens, frighten many moderate Germans so much that Kohl has already been evoking the specter of a "red-green coalition" as a campaign stick with which to beat the SPD. "Five months before the election, the SPD is faced with the dilemma of not being able to say with which coalition partner it wants to turn its campaign platform into laws," the daily Frankfurter Rundschau commented. Scharping was widely criticized in the German press on Wednesday for his outburst after Herzog beat SPD candidate Johannes Rau in an electoral college vote, 696 to 605. In a show of frayed nerves, he questioned Herzog's suitability as head of state, cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election and insulted the small FDP as Kohl's lapdog. "The SPD could hardly have shown better the worries it has been struggling to hide these past few weeks than with this outburst of pent-up frustration," the Tageszeitung daily said.The clearest signs of the new difficulties Scharping faces have been the opinion polls showing his once-massive lead over Kohl steadily dwindling to a neck-and-neck race. The latest monthly Politbarometer by the Election Research Group last week showed the challenger was still ahead of Kohl in personal popularity by 51 to 40 percent. The SPD was now only one point ahead of Kohl's CDU at 39 to 38 percent, but party officials said the early lead was bound to melt as the campaign heated up. Kohl's recovery in the polls seems to go hand-in-hand with the upturn in the German economy, which should now grow around 1 percent this year after a sharp recession last year.