10:45 p.m. – My colleagues Madeline Chambers and Noah Barkin have been busy filing updates on the debate. Here is the start of their latest story: BERLIN, Sept 13 (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier clashed in a TV debate on Sunday over tax cuts, manager pay and nuclear energy two weeks before an election in Europe’s biggest economy. Steinmeier, whose SPD trails Merkel’s conservatives in opinion polls, went on the attack at the outset, criticising the chancellor for resisting a minimum wage and limits on manager salaries. Merkel parried the attacks of Steinmeier, who has served as her foreign minister for the past four years in Berlin’s “grand coalition”, defending her record but largely steering clear of direct confrontation.
10:30 – ZDF has just published the results of a quick poll of 1,129 viewers: 31 percent said Steinmeier had the upper hand while 28 percent Merkel came out better with 40 percent saying “no difference.” The poll by the Electoral Research Group also found Merkel’s big lead melting among voters after the debate when asked “Who would you rather have as chancellor?” Merkel got 64 percent before the debate but only 55 percent after it while Steinmeier was preferred by 29 percent before the debate and 38 percent after the debate.That is quite a quite a shift. “This debate marked the start of the hunt for the ‘undecideds’,” said Matthias Jung, head of the polling institute.
10:20 p.m. – My colleagues Dave Graham and Sarah Marsh have been busily keeping track of the debate highlights. Here is their report.
10:02 p.m. – It doesn’t take long for the spin doctors to pop up on the airwaves on all four networks. I’ve been watching public broadcaster ZDF. They’ve got the editor of the left-leaning Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Heribert Prantl, and he says somewhat predictably that Steinmeier won while Helmut Markwort, editor of the right-leaning Focus newsweekly, calls it a draw. “Steinmeier was surprisingly strong,” says Prantl. “I didn’t think he had that in him. He came out of the defensive and went on the attack from the start. Merkel didn’t find her form until towards the end.” Markwort disagrees: “It was a clear draw. They will have galvanised their own supporters. It was relatively lively. I didn’t expect them to go after each other like that.”
9:58 p.m.- Merkel has also obviously rehearsed her closing speech-let. She gets all those terms in that conservatives want to hear: family, children, parents, grandparents, education and “ensuring jobs.” After a rousing debate, Merkel is back in her “feel-good” campaign-speech mode now: vague. “Together we can accomplish a lot,” she says.
9:55 p.m. – Closing statements: Steinmeier up first and he’s clearly been practicing his little speech. He gets all his buzz words in again about minimum wage, healthcare for everyone, social balance, shutting down nuclear power and expresses his worry about a growing “gap between rich and poor.”
9:50 p.m. – This is getting good. Merkel starts grilling Steinmeier about his criticism of the Free Democrats if they form a coalition with her party but at the same time he keeps trying to woo the FDP for his own coalition. Steinmeier doesn’t have an answer for that. He starts talking but doesn’t give much of an explanation.
9:48 p.m. – Steinmeier says he won’t let the poor opinion polls get him down. “What I experience at all my campaign rallies is a lot different than the polls,” he says. He would say that, wouldn’t he?
9:45 p.m. They’re getting a bit testy with each about tax cut plans by the conservatives if they get in power with the pro-business Free Democrats. Steinmeier wants to know how, in the face of all the government stimulus spending going on, are they going to pay for that? Merkel responds with growth. “Growth creates jobs,” she said. But Steinmeier has done his homework and shoots back: “How can you finance that out of growth? You’d need to have an annual growth rate of 9 percent to afford that. We’ve never had that much growth.” Merkel insists tax cuts are do-able. “I don’t want to confuse the viewers here with numbers,” she says.
9:30 p.m. – Merkel clearly doesn’t like to be interrupted. “Can I finish my sentence, please?” is a sentence she keeps saying.
9:20 p.m. – My colleague Madeline Chambers is in the Reuters office in Berlin with about a dozen other reporters covering this debate for the English and German language subscribers. This is her take on the debate so far: “At the half way stage, Steinmeier is going on the offensive and attacking Merkel’s record, especially on the economy. He looks relaxed while Merkel is talking fast and frowning a little more. Compared to his concrete verbal attacks on specific issues, Merkel sounds vague and has rather obviously skirted several questions. It is unclear at this stage, however, if there has been a winning blow.”