Two weeks ago, two of the parties in Merkel's federal "grand coalition" of what have traditionally been Germany's strongest political forces - the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only sister to Merkel's CDU, and the Social Democrats - were battered in a state election in neighbouring Bavaria.
Propelled by the backlash to Merkel's migration policy into the federal Bundestag previous year, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) is now represented in all 16 of Germany's state legislatures, after Hessian voters handed it a 12-percent score. Meanwhile, the right-wing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) tripled its vote share from 2013 and allowing it to enter parliament for the first time with 13.2% of the vote.
Merkel has been chairwoman of the CDU since 2000 and her stepping down from the role would start a race for her successor within the party.
SPD leader Andrea Nahles said she would use a roadmap with which to measure the progress of the ruling coalition, which has been plagued by infighting, at a mid-term review next year.
Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union was defending its 19-year hold on Hesse, previously a stronghold of the centre-left Social Democrats, the chancellor's coalition partners in Berlin. Merkel's party managed an unimpressive win, narrowly salvaging a majority for its regional governing coalition with the Greens in Hesse.
All this sangfroid is no stoical front in the face of defeat; it is the demeanour of a chancellor who knows that she has a few aces left up her sleeve.
The outcome was an nearly exact replay of results in Bavaria two weeks ago, when the CDU's sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), was humiliated in a state where it has long governed without rivals.
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A national election is not mandated until 2021, but the disappointing results for the coalition partners and a resignation as party leader by Merkel would likely hasten them.
"We went into the government because we really want to improve things - for families, for single parents, for caregivers", said Lars Klingbeil, the party's general secretary.
This comes as she is been facing calls to quit from her own conservatives to cede the party's leadership today, further eroding her authority after painful losses in a regional election. Although the CDU has remained relatively united behind its leader in public, discontent has been building as the party's fortunes have sunk.
The protest party has eaten into both the CDU and SPD vote by railing against migrants and refugees as well as uncaring Berlin elites.
A loss for Bouffier would make life more hard for Merkel, who has indicated that she plans to seek another two-year term as CDU leader at a congress in December.
A growing swell of SPD members feel their party is tarnished by its alliance with Merkel and would be best to rebuild in opposition - a scenario SPD leader Andreas Nahles has resisted.
The other big victor was the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered the Hesse regional assembly for the first time with 12 percent of the vote, the ARD exit poll showed.