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German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party has comfortably won an election in the small southwestern state of Saarland - a vote seen as a bellwether for the national election in September.

State premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU conservative candidate who has been nicknamed "the Merkel from the Saar", wants to stay in power with a grand coalition.

Mrs Merkel is hoping for a fourth term as chancellor, but recent polls suggest this is less likely than it was.

This outcome calls into question voters' appetite for a so-called r2g governing coalition, or a red, red, green alliance of the SDP, Left, and Green parties.

It's a respite for Merkel, who has come under pressure from party allies to sharpen her campaign against the SPD, which has surged to parity in national polls ahead of the September 24 election in Europe's biggest economy. They failed. Instead, voters in the state of Saarland flocked to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on Sunday for fear of a new left-wing alliance.

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Commentators said the Saarland result indicated voters may be getting cold feet about that prospect.

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"I've always said that everything's in the CDU's hands", Merkel said.

"Election campaigns are distance races, not sprints", Schulz told supporters at SPD headquarters in Berlin.

The nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won 6.2 percent of the vote.

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Schulz said that the Left Party had run particularly strongly in Saarland because one of their most visible representatives, former SPD chancellor candidate Oskar Lafontaine (in 1990), comes from there.

While Merkel planned to comment on the election result late on Monday (AEDT), leaders of her party said the result was a vote for stability. But the Greens, who would nearly certainly have to be part of any governing left-wing coalition at the national level, failed to clear the five-percent hurdle needed for parliamentary representation in the southwest German state. "It shows that in uncertain times, the people trust the political forces that govern in a reliable way".

It was, however, the AfD's worst result after five state elections in which it topped 10%, in a sign that the abating refugee crisis and bitter infighting have damaged popular support for the protest party.

"We have picked up support in the last few weeks, in Saarland too, and we are looking ahead", Schulz said, promising to draw "the necessary consequences" for two more state elections in May in bigger regions that his party already leads.

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