<pBavarians were voting Sunday in a state election<pRegional Green co-leader Katharina Schulze says people are fed up with the politics of "hate and agitation" and "want a policy that gives courage instead of fear."
<pAnd the far-right Alternative for Germany, which entered Germany's national parliament only last year, is appealing to voters who want an uncompromising anti-migration, law-and-order stance.
<pSeehofer has sparred with Merkel about migration on and off since 2015, when he assailed her decision to leave Germany's borders open as refugees and others crossed the Balkans. They argued in June over whether to turn back small numbers of asylum-seekers at the German-Austrian border, briefly threatening to bring down the national government.
<pSeehofer also starred in a coalition crisis last month over Germany's domestic intelligence chief, who was accused of downplaying recent far-right violence against migrants.
<pThere is widespread speculation that a poor performance Sunday could cost Seehofer his job, though he has insisted he will stay. Soeder, meanwhile, has pivoted from tough talk on migration to trying to project an inclusive image as Bavaria's leader.
<pPolls put support for the CSU as low as 33 percent, down from 47.7 percent in 2013. Alternative for Germany looks set to win 10 percent or more.
<pThe Greens are running second, with support up to 19 percent, and the Social Democrats could lose nearly half the 20.6 percent they won five years ago.
<pSuch results would likely leave the CSU seeking a coalition with the Greens, their often-bitter opponents, or an alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats and center-right Free Voters. A four-way alliance without the CSU might be mathematically possible, but impractical.
<pIt's not yet clear whether the Bavarian vote will affect the national government's stability — or Merkel's long-term future. Its aftershocks may be delayed, because another state election is coming Oct. 28 in neighboring Hesse, where conservative Volker Bouffier is defending the 19-year hold of Merkel's CDU party on the governor's office.
<pThe 64-year-old Merkel, who has led Germany since 2005, has already been weakened by government infighting and the ouster of a close ally as her party's parliamentary leader. She will hope that poor state election results don't create new political problems before a CDU party convention in December where her leadership is due for renewal.
<p"Of course I hope for a good result for the CSU," she said Friday. "I know that we don't live in easy times. Otherwise, I'm waiting for the result."