Poll points to cliffhanger in important German state vote

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January 18, 2013 7:21 AM EST

A poll on Thursday put Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and their coalition partners neck-and-neck with rivals in the German state of Lower Saxony, three days before a vote there that will set the tone for this autumn's federal election.

The Christian Democrats (CDU), led by state premier David McAllister, were seen winning 41 percent of the vote and their Free Democrats (FDP) partners hitting the 5 percent mark required to ensure assembly seats, according to the GMS survey.

However the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) were seen on 33 percent and the Greens on 13 percent, giving both the centre-left and the centre-right blocs 46 percent.

The vote in Lower Saxony, Germany's second-largest state by area, is seen as a must win for the SPD if they are to have any hope of unseating Merkel in the federal election, as well as recovering from a disastrous start to their national election campaign by gaffe-prone chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck.

McAllister, the son of a Scottish soldier and a German mother, became premier by default in 2010 when his predecessor Christian Wulff was made president. He is anxious to win his first big election and consolidate his status as a rising star in the CDU of the new generation.

The latest national poll by Forsa published on Wednesday gave the CDU a massive 20-point lead over the SPD on 43 percent, but saw the FDP on just 3 percent and as such unable to enter parliament. This could complicate Merkel's re-election chances and leave her in search of an alternative partner.

(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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