Merkel, rival face off in German election debate

A man on a bicycle passes election posters, showing the two top candidates for next German chancellor at a street in Duisburg, western Germany, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Peer Steinbrueck of the Social Democratic Party, SPD, left, will challenge German chancellor Angela Merkel of the governing Christian Social Democrats, CDU, right. Germans will vote on Sept. 22, 2013. Slogan on the SPD poster reads "you have it in your hand" and on the CDU poster "Germany is strong. And should stay that way." (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel is to face her center-left rival in the only live televised debate of the campaign for Germany's Sept. 22 parliamentary election — with the challenger needing a good performance against the popular incumbent.

Recent surveys have given Merkel's conservative bloc a large lead over challenger Peer Steinbrueck's Social Democrats and suggested that her current center-right coalition can hope to win re-election. They've also given her a big advantage in personal popularity.

So far, Merkel's center-left opponents have struggled to land any blows on her and she has largely ignored her challenger. But Sunday night's 90-minute duel, broadcast live on several national channels, offers voters a chance to compare the candidates.

Merkel has benefited from a healthy economy and perceptions that she's managed Europe's debt crisis well.