In Berlin, he is known as Angela Merkel's smartest minister. But Norbert Röttgen has led a lacklustre campaign ahead of key elections this Sunday (13 May) in North Rhine-Westphalia, where opinion polls predict a historical defeat for the Christian Democrats in Germany's most populous state.
In Berlin, German environment minister Röttgen is known as "Merkel's darling".
But his fortunes could change dramatically this weekend as opinion polls predict the worst ever result for Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in North Rhine-Westphalia, where Röttgen is attempting to dislodge Social-Democrat Hannelore Kraft as Prime Minister.
The German press is widely predicting Röttgen's defeat. Financial Times Deutschland pronounced the "Crash of a High-Flyer”, while Süddeutsche Zeitung dubbed him "The nail in Merkel's coffin”.
To make matters worse, Röttgen linked the regional poll to a vote of confidence on Merkel's European austerity policy in pre-election statements.
In a recent campaign speech in Düsseldorf, he said the socialists' victory in France and the defeat of the governing parties in Greece raised questions over Merkel's austerity policy in Europe, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung. The vote in North Rhine-Westphalia would be a poll on Merkel's policy choices, he said, claiming these would gain a fillip from his re-election.
With opinion polls pointing to a humiliating defeat on Sunday, Röttgen's statements could be interpreted as an attempt to blame Merkel and Europe for his misfortunes. Officials from the CDU and its sister Christian Social-Union said that Röttgen's statements made their "blood run cold".
To be fair, Röttgen's chances of election have always been slim. But the regional election now threatens to become an embarrassment for the CDU, with political commentators claiming it could damage Merkel.
For weeks, the CDU candidate was credited with around 30% support in the state,according to opinion polls. The party has polled much better in past elections: it received 34.6% in 2010, and as much as 45% in a historic 2005 win.
The snap re-elections in Germany's most populous state were announced two months ago when the minority government made up of the center-left Social Democrats and the Greens collapsed over its failure to pass the budget. The parties had only 60 days to organise their campaigns.
Test for 2013 general election
The state election is being seen as a test before next year's general election. In 2005, when a red-green coalition failed in Düsseldorf, it foretold wider defeat for the parties at federal level, ushering in Merkel's chancellorship.
Many conservatives were hoping that Merkel's minister could score better by portraying outgoing Social Democrat Kraft as irresponsible and addicted to debt, playing to the CDU campaign slogan: "Responsibility instead of borrowing".
Voters seem unconvinced, however. In a poll conducted for German public broadcaster WDR, the voters ascribed more budget and fiscal competences to Kraft than to her CDU rival. The result was surprising as the CDU is traditionally credited with more fiscal discipline than the SPD.
In recent opinion polls, Röttgen's popularity rates dropped to a miserable 20%, while Kraft stormed to 60% despite being the incumbent.
His public appearances have also been weak. In a TV-show aired on Wednesday by public broadcaster ZDF the otherwise talented Röttgen said it was "unfortunate" that the election was for the people to decide, rather than the CDU.
Seconds later, Röttgen noticed his mistake and began to explain that he had been joking. In vain, however: the video spread rapidly on the internet, attracting numerous malicious user comments.