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State loss a blow to Merkel, but far from decisive

Monday - 1/21/2013, 11:54am  ET

German Chancellor and chairwoman of the German Christian Democrats, CDU, Angela Merkel attends a press conference after the party's weekly executive committee meeting in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says a state election loss months before a national vote was painful — but she's downplaying the implications for her quest for a third term. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

GEIR MOULSON
Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) -- The defeat of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition in a high-profile state election is a blow to the German leader as she seeks a third term later this year. But it's far from clear that the opposition can build on its narrow win to oust the popular conservative.

The opposition Social Democrats and Greens ejected Merkel's center-right alliance from the government of Lower Saxony state Sunday, winning a single-seat majority in its legislature. It was a major test before national parliamentary elections, which are due in September.

Merkel said "a defeat hurts all the more" when it is so close, but stressed how close her coalition came to winning and insisted that a victory seemed "completely impossible" a few months ago. That, she said after leaders of her Christian Democratic Union met Monday, "is also a good message, that we can win."

Still, Lower Saxony's CDU governor lost his job despite his personal popularity -- and surveys show Merkel herself is considerably more popular than her coalition of the last 3
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