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Another influence for Mr. Laschet is Aachen, the westernmost city in Germany, where he was born and raised. Growing up in a place with deep ties to Belgium and the Netherlands, Mr. Laschet has been embedded in the larger European ideal all his life. He still has a home in Aachen with his wife, Susanne, whom he met through the church choir and the youth group. Together, they have three grown children, including Joe Laschet, a social media influencer and a fashionista for classic men’s clothing.

Mr Laschet’s first political post was as a municipal official in 1979. He was elected to the German Parliament in 1994, then, five years later, he was elected to represent his home region as a member of the European Parliament. He entered the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2005, as German prime minister for integration – a role focused on migrants and their descendants that has earned him national recognition.

After the Christian Democrats suffered a crushing defeat in the 2012 regional elections, Mr Laschet helped rebuild the party. He backed Merkel’s decision to take in over a million migrants in 2015, and two years later he became governor of North Rhine-Westphalia.

In January, he fought to become the leader of the Christian Democrats, defeating Mr Söder, who remains a politician more popular with many Germans, but it remains to be seen whether Mr Laschet will be able to save himself.

He had some minor successes, including a fiery appearance in the first televised debate and ably dealt with an angry vaccination opponent who took the stage by storm during a campaign stoppage. Mr Laschet has also assembled a team of experts, including former rivals like Friedrich Merz, who is well-regarded by the conservative wing of the party, in a bid to show off his bridge-building skills. But none of these things made a dent in the growing gap with the Social Democrats.

During a campaign stop in Frankfurt an Oder, a woman holding up a cell phone walked towards the candidate as he stood on a bridge overlooking the Polish border, making a statement to reporters on the role of Germany in Europe.

nytimes Gt