The leaders of Germany's main parties debated last night but no clear winner emerged according to instant opinion polls. Watch BBC report. A draw might, however, be something of a setback for Mrs Merkel. Her CDU party's great advantage has been her strong lead in all opinion polls as first choice for German Chancellor.
The two principal candidates for Chancellor, Mrs Merkel of the CDU and Frank Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democrats, often agreed during the debate. As coalition partners in the current German government they take very similar positions on the hot issue of the sale of car manufacturer, Opel; European integration; and the war in Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal agrees that Germany will leave Afghanistan within about five years if Mrs Merkel is re-elected. Her support for the war is described as "equivocal" and the anti-war Linke party has seen its support rise during the election campaign. Afghanistan emerged as an election campaign issue after as many as 70 Afghans were accidentally killed by German forces in an airstrike.
Another hot issue in an otherwise lacklustre campaign is the issue of nuclear power. One of the big decisions taken by the former SPD-Green coalition led by Gerhard Schroeder was a ban on new nuclear power stations. Mrs Merkel wants to extend the life of existing nuclear power stations by fifteen years and her likely coalition partners, the FDP, want to build new ones. This is an unpopular position, however. The Economist notes a poll showing that just 17% of Germans want their country to "stay in the nuclear business".
Current opinion polls show that Mrs Merkel should be able to form a majority coalition with the FDP but she is has little margin for slippage.