Exit polls indicate that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives have beaten their center-left rivals in an election in Germany’s most populous state. North Rhine-Westphalia is a traditional stronghold of the center-left Social Democrats, and the projected outcome is a serious blow to Merkel’s challenger in the national election in September, Martin Schulz. Exit polls for ARD and ZDF public television Sunday showed Merkel’s Christian Democrats beating the Social Democrats by 34.5 percent to 30.5 percent. They give the Greens – the junior coalition partners in the outgoing state government, only 6 percent, meaning that the coalition would lose its majority. Support for the pro-business Free Democrats was running at 12 percent and the nationalist Alternative for Germany at 7.5 percent – giving the latter seats in its 13th state legislature.