BERLIN -- Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democratic challenger, Peer Steinbrück, returned to the campaign trail on Monday, with neither triumphant after their sole television debate, a mostly decorous 90-minute exchange that restored Mr. Steinbrück as a credible candidate but yielded a rhetorical draw.
Perhaps reflecting the flickering interest stirred by the largely predictable positions taken by both leaders, commentary focused on what the Berlin tabloid B.Z. called "the two winners in the TV duel: Raab and Merkel's necklace."
The reference was first to Stefan Raab, a television entertainer whose inclusion in the normally serious lineup of four moderators at the debate on Sunday night was much remarked and delivered the liveliest exchange of the evening. Mr. Raab pushed Mr. Steinbrück hard for guidance for those Germans -- and polls suggest their number is considerable -- who want to see a "grand coalition" of the Social Democrats with Ms. Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats after the Sept. 22 elections.
Mr. Steinbrück, 66, who served as finance minister in Ms. Merkel's first government, a grand coalition from 2005 to 2009, has already said he will not head up the Social Democrats in such a cabinet now. Flustered, he eventually told Mr. Raab that voters should go with the center-left.
For her part, Ms. Merkel, 59, has carefully ducked controversy so far on the campaign trail, even over the allegations that U.S. intelligence spied on the communications of millions of Germans. And until the debate, she had studiously ignored Mr. Steinbrück by not mentioning his name.
So perhaps the most overt excitement she garnered on Sunday was for her necklace, consisting of long beads of black, red and gold, which are the colors of the German flag.
In the European mold of politicians who hone their skills and policy knowledge over decades, Mr. Steinbrück, a Social Democrat for 44 years and a former governor of Germany's largest state, and Ms. Merkel, in politics since 1990 and now seeking a third four-year term as chancellor, found support in their own camps on Monday.
For Jakob Augstein, a Merkel critic who writes a column for Der Spiegel, Mr. Steinbrück, who stumbled early after his nomination last autumn over disclosures that he had received large fees for lectures and writing, showed that "he can do it."
"On Sunday," Mr. Augstein wrote in an online commentary, "we saw a tired chancellor who looked somewhat uninterested." By contrast, he said, the Social Democrat was "a lively challenger, eager to attack."
Reflecting the maxim that all politics is local, it took more than an hour before the candidates discussed international issues like the allegations of U.S. spying or the Syrian government's possible use of chemical weapons against thousands of civilians. Ms. Merkel's government has ruled out participation in any military response, and a senior government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters on Monday that she would discuss Syria on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Russia this week but had no formal meetings set with either President Barack Obama or President Vladimir V. Putin.
By contrast, the candidates quite swiftly laid out differing approaches to the euro crisis and to helping Greece, while substantially agreeing that it was the duty of Germany, having Europe's biggest and strongest economy, to support weaker nations. Mr. Steinbrück even likened the aid to a second Marshall Plan, the huge American economic program for Western Europe after World War II.
Two weeks ago, Ms. Merkel's finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, stirred up controversy by confirming that Greece would need a third package of support from fellow members of the euro zone. The chancellor defended that statement -- which Mr. Schäuble does not appear to have cleared with her in advance -- by noting, as he has, that a third package was always considered likely and envisioned as such by finance ministers last autumn.
On Monday, Mr. Schäuble was back before a parliamentary committee to testify about Greece, this time sounding tough by opposing any compensation of the Greek government for aid it has already given to banks. Mr. Schäuble estimated the value of any new package for Greece as at least €4 billion, or $5.3 billion.
A small new party, the Alliance for Germany, is running on a platform of taking Germany out of the euro. It has consistently polled below the 5 percent level needed to win seats in Parliament, but pollsters have warned that voters may simply be hiding their intention to vote against the euro.
The complexities of stitching together a coalition in Germany may yet deny Ms. Merkel her widely expected victory. The Free Democrats, Ms. Merkel's current partners in government, the Greens, who could partner the Social Democrats in government, and the Left, a party that has so far been shunned by the others, are all predicted to make it into the new Parliament chosen this month.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.