BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) will ask Finance Minister Olaf Scholz to be their chancellor candidate at an election next year when conservative Angela Merkel's fourth and last term ends, the weekly Die Zeit reported on Wednesday, citing SPD sources.
Scholz's popularity has surged within the centre-left SPD and the wider German public over his backing of unprecedented spending programmes to help the German economy weather a crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Reuters earlier reported a senior SPD member, who described himself as a critic of Scholz, saying that the minister had done an "impressive job" during the crisis, and that his chances of becoming chancellor candidate were high.
SPD co-leaders Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans have had discussions with SPD state premiers, regional party heads and senior lawmakers in which Scholz was repeatedly mentioned as the candidate of choice, according to Die Zeit.
Even Kevin Kuehnert, a long-time critic of Scholz and leader of the party's youth wing, signalled his willingness to support the finance minister as a candidate, the report said.
Esken and Walter-Borjans, who together beat Scholz and his running mate Klara Geywitz to the party leadership late last year, played down the report but did not deny it outright.
In an emailed statement, they said they were still in talks with possible candidates and would make their proposal only after the process ended.
The SPD plans to announce its chancellor candidate later this year, possibly in August or September. Scholz has repeatedly said that he is willing to take the role.
A spokesman for Scholz declined to comment on the report.
(Reporting by Holger Hansen und Michael Nienaber; Editing by Kevin Liffey)