Merkel's party chooses successor to longtime German leader

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018 file photo Friedrich Merz, former CDU faction leader, left, Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn, center, and

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018 file photo Friedrich Merz, former CDU faction leader, left, Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn, center, and

FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 file photo German Chancellor and party chairwoman Angela Merkel waves during the party convention of the Christia

FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 file photo German Chancellor and party chairwoman Angela Merkel waves during the party convention of the Christia

FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 file photo The governor of German Saarland state and designated CDU Secretary General, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer

FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 file photo The governor of German Saarland state and designated CDU Secretary General, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018 file photo Friedrich Merz, member of the German Christian Democratic Party, addresses the media during a press

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018 file photo Friedrich Merz, member of the German Christian Democratic Party, addresses the media during a press

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 photo German Health Minister Jens Spahn arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin. A

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 photo German Health Minister Jens Spahn arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin. A

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel's party is meeting to elect a new leader who could help shape Germany's political direction for the next generation.

A close ally of Merkel's and a one-time rival are considered favorites for the job to lead the center-right Christian Democratic Union.

Merkel announced in October she would give up the reins in her party, though she plans to serve her current term as chancellor.

Three high-profile contenders have toured Germany to drum up support.

Friday's vote pits CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a Merkel ally, against Friedrich Merz, a former leader of the party's parliamentary group who stands for a more conservative approach and has been away from front-line politics for a decade.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, another Merkel critic, is considered the outsider.