Kohl suffers setback in eastern German state vote

MAGDEBURG, Germany (AP) — Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s strength with eastern German voters plummeted Sunday as voters in a state election channeled their disillusionment into support for an extreme-right party.
The anti-foreigner German People’s Union entered the Saxony-Anhalt state legislature with more than 13 percent of the vote, according to early results. Kohl’s Christian Democrats lost about that much, slumping to 22 percent support.
The Social Democrats improved slightly, winning about 37 percent, while the ex-communist Party of Democratic Socialism remained steady with about 19 percent.
The Social Democrats declared the vote in the economically depressed state a new boost for their chancellor candidate Gerhard Schroeder, the front-runner for Sept. 27 national elections.
Voter turnout was 70 percent, more than 15 percent higher than in 1994.
Overall, Sunday’s result signaled the precipitous decline of Kohl’s popularity among easterners, who had supported Kohl in his last two re-election campaigns out of gratitude for unification.
Without the east’s support, Kohl could lose his chance for a second historic triumph after unification: presiding over Germany’s entry into monetary union with Europe.
Schroeder, who pledges to make Germany more competitive while keeping its wide social safety net, tailored his message by promising continued massive government aid to the east.
Some 2.1 million people were eligible for the second major test of voter sentiment this year. In the first one, Schroeder clinched his party’s nomination with a triumphant re-election as governor of the neighboring western state of Lower Saxony in March.