German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer is poised to become prime minister of the southern state of Bavaria after his two rivals for the post pulled out Tuesday.
Horst Seehofer, right, is odds-on favorite to succeed Guenther Beckstein as CSU Premier
The position became available after Guenther Beckstein announced last week he would step down, making him the second casualty of a disastrous election setback for the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU).
Beckstein and fellow election casualty Erwin Huber, the former party leader who relinquished his position Sept. 30, had been in their posts only one year before stepping down.
The pair were blamed for a series of policy blunders over issues such as education, a much-loathed smoking ban and the scrapping of a multi-billion-euro maglev train link to Munich airport.
The CSU, which had governed Bavaria alone for more than four decades and is a key party in Chancellor Angela Merkel's federal coalition, lost nearly one-third of its voter support in disastrous state elections in Bavaria on Sept. 28, slumping to a 43-percent popularity rating in the poll.
Analysts have said that the Bavaria outcome could hurt Merkel's chances of retaining power in federal elections scheduled for Sept. 2009.
Beckstein, 64, said at a news conference he would not be available to lead a planned coalition government in the state because he lacked the "necessary degree of support" within the CSU.
Seehofer leadership decision imminent
Beckstein made several political gaffs before resigning
Beckstein's departure triggered a succession battle among fellow CSU politicians, including Seehofer, Bavarian Science Minister Thomas Goppel and the state's interior minister, Joachim Herrmann.
Both Herrmann and Gopel withdrew their candidacies Tuesday, the CSU said. CSU parliamentarians are expected to decide on Seehofer's nomination Wednesday.
Seehofer, who is also CSU vice chairman, had been viewed as the front-runner to assume Huber's position as party chairman.
The resurgent 59-year-old politician lost support among conservative quarters last year after it had emerged that his mistress had given birth to his child.
The post of party leader and premier were in the hands of veteran politician Edmund Stoiber until he was toppled in a party rebellion last year.