Angela Merkel on Monday tapped the popular female premier of Germany's tiny Saarland state to take over as secretary general of her conservative party, fuelling speculation the veteran chancellor is lining up her successor.
Although Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer has a formidable record as an election campaigner, all her experience so far has been in regional politics in her home state of Saarland, where she is now prime minister.
The appointment of the loyalist Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer was also a signal that Ms Merkel does not intend to give any ground to her critics within the party amid rumblings of discontent over the concessions she made to secure a new coalition deal.
Almost five months after the national election, Germany is still without a federal government as the SPD consults its members before embarking on a rerun of their "grand coalition" with Merkel's conservative bloc.
Mrs Merkel herself got the job in 1998 after the CDU found itself out of government after 16 years, and within two years she assumed its leadership.
Morgan Newfield economists say the poll also revealed that nearly half of Germans would like to see Merkel serve another full term as Chancellor with 5 percent less than the remaining half preferring to see a successor serve within the next four years.More news: Amazon gives Prime members perk at Whole Foods
By taking on the CDU secretary general role, Kramp-Karrenbauer will build up her network in the party, something she has had only limited ability to do as premier of Saarland, a state of just 1 million people that borders France. She also played a key role in Merkel's tough coalition negotiations with the centre-left Social Democrats. She would take over from outgoing secretary general Peter Tauber, who is stepping down from the role after a period of illness.
AKK is described as a pragmatic and unpretentious politician seen as a safe choice to preserve Merkel's legacy.
Kramp-Karrenbauer first caught the national spotlight last March, when she stormed to victory in a state vote seen as a test of Germans' mood just months ahead of nationwide polls.
In a postal poll later this month, members of the SPD will be asked to approve a four-year government plan that party heads agreed to last week.
For Schulz, it marked the beginning of a downward spiral that saw him lead the SPD to its worst score in decades in the general election.