The race to lead the German conservatives was down to three men as nominations drew to a close Tuesday, with Angela Merkel’s CDU party seeking a new direction after election defeat. Right-wing veteran Friedrich Merz, Bundestag foreign affairs committee chair Norbert Roettgen and Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun have all thrown their hats in the ring ahead of a Wednesday deadline. Merz and Roettgen are both running for the second time in 12 months, having lost to former North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Armin Laschet in the last contest in early 2021. Laschet led the conservative CDU and the smaller CSU to their worst post-war election result in September. The bloc came second to the Social Democrats (SPD) led by chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is likely to become the next chancellor. The SPD is in talks with the Greens and the liberal FDP to form a ruling coalition and hopes to have a new government in place by early December, leaving the conservatives in opposition. Braun, 49, is a former doctor who has played a key role in managing the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Close to Merkel but little known to the general public, he had previously shown no ambitions to lead the party, with his candidacy coming as a surprise to many.