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Exit polls: Social Democrats win, far-right loses in Hamburg

BERLIN – The center-left Social Democrats won the most votes in the Hamburg state election Sunday, according to exit polls, followed by the environmentalist Green party in a vote that was overshadowed by a racist massacre and political turmoil in Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats appeared to lose badly, receiving the weakest results in Hamburg, which is Germany's second-biggest city and its own state, in the last seven decades.

In what would be a large upset, the far-right Alternative for Germany — which has been especially successful in state elections in eastern Germany where it got up to about a quarter of the vote — appears to not have received the 5% of the vote needed to get into the state assembly.

According to exit polls released by German public television ARD and ZDF, the Social Democrats received 38% of the vote, down from 45.6% in 2015, but still making them the winner. The Greens almost doubled their result to 25.5%, up from 12.3%. Hamburg has been governed for the last five years by a coalition made up of the center-left Social Democrats and the environmentalist Green party. Both parties campaigned on the issue of climate change.

The Christian Democrats received 11%, down from 15.9%.

According to the projections, AfD received between 4.7% and 4.8% of the vote, down from 6.1%, meaning the far-right party would be kicked out of the state parliament. The Free Democrats were at 5% in early exit polls, which means they would just make it into parliament.

The Hamburg election comes at a time of political turmoil in Germany. On Wednesday, nine people were killed by an immigrant-hating gunman in the Frankfurt suburb of Hanau. The racist attack was Germany's third deadly far-right attack in a matter of months and came at a time when AfD has become the country's first political party in decades to establish itself as a significant force on the extreme right.

Many are accusing the party of producing a climate where right-wing extremism can flourish. The 7-year-old party now has members in all 16 state parliaments and is the largest opposition party nationally, though with less than 13% of the vote in the last election. If final election results show that the party did indeed not make it into the state assembly, Hamburg voters would be the first to kick AfD out of a German state parliament again.

Earlier this month, a controversial vote in Thuringia where the state governor was elected with the votes of AfD — and the Christian Democrats' voting with far-right colleagues — appalled left-leaning parties and many in the mainstream center-right camp. Merkel called the election of the Free Democrats' Thomas Kemmerich inexcusable. Partnering with the far-right has been a political taboo since after World War II.

After much turmoil, Kemmerich resigned, but the aftereffects are still being felt in national politics and the apparent defeat of the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats in Hamburg may be related to the chaotic performance of the two parties in Thuringia.

Official final results were expected Monday night.

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AP journalist Frank Jordans contributed to this report.