NUREMBERG, Germany (AP) — As Germany’s national election nears this fall, the governor of Bavaria is considered an increasingly likely contender to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor. Markus Soeder was catapulted onto the national stage last year when Germany’s first coronavirus cases were confirmed in his southern state. Over the past months he has loyally supported Merkel, forcefully defending lockdown measures even as other state governors wavered. In a wide-ranging interview, Soeder told the AP about the next steps in the conservative leadership race and about how his love for America was tested by Donald Trump. The 54-year-old is outspoken about his Christian faith and believes that protecting the planet is a religious imperative.