Another influence for Mr. Laschet is Aachen, Germany’s westernmost city, where he was born and raised. Growing up in a place with deep ties to Belgium and the Netherlands, Mr. Laschet has been integrated into the larger European ideal all of his life. He still maintains a home in Aachen with his wife, Susanne, whom he met through their church choir and youth group. Together they have three grown children, including, Joe Laschet, a social media influencer and fashionista for classic men’s wear.
Mr. Laschet’s first political post was as a municipal official in 1979. He was elected to the German Parliament in 1994, and then, five years later, he was elected to represent his home region as a member of the European Parliament. He entered state government in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2005, as Germany’s first minister for integration — a role focused on migrants and their descendants that earned him nationwide recognition.
After the Christian Democrats suffered a stinging defeat in the 2012 state elections, Mr. Laschet helped rebuild the party. He supported Ms. Merkel’s decision to welcome more than a million migrants in 2015, and two years later, he became the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia.
This January, he fought to become the leader of the Christian Democrats, beating Mr. Söder, who remains a more popular politician with many Germans, but whether Mr. Laschet can save himself remains to be seen.
He has had some minor successes, including a feisty appearance in the first televised debate and deftly dealing with an angry vaccination opponent who stormed the stage during a campaign stop. Mr. Laschet has also assembled a team of experts, including former rivals, like Friedrich Merz, who is well liked among the party’s conservative wing, in an effort to show his bridge-building skills. But none of these things have made a dent in the widening gap with the Social Democrats.
At a campaign stop in Frankfurt an der Oder, a woman wielding a cellphone pushed her way toward the candidate as he stood on a bridge overlooking the Polish border, making a statement to reporters about Germany’s role in Europe.