Polls early in the summer showed the unified Left list winning as much as 12 percent of the vote, and for a time it seemed possible the party would surge past the established Alliance '90/The Greens and right–liberal Free Democratic Party and become the third-strongest faction of the Bundestag. Alarmed by the Left's unexpected rise in the polls, Germany's mainstream politicians attacked Lafontaine and Gysi as "leftist populists" and "demagogues" and accused the party of flirting with neo-Nazi voters. A gaffe by Lafontaine, who described "foreign workers" as a threat in one speech early in the campaign, provided ammunition for charges that The Left was attempting to exploit German xenophobia and anti-democratic populism to attract voters from the far-right . 
Poppe hung out with East German dissidents as a teenager, got blackballed out of college, and was busted in 1974 by the police on the thin pretext of "asocial behavior." On her way out of jail, Stasi agents asked her to be an informant, to spy on her fellow radicals, but she refused. ("I was just 21, but I knew I shouldn't trust the Stasi, let alone sign anything," she says.) She went on to become a founding member of a reform-minded group called Women for Peace, and was eventually arrested 13 more times — and imprisoned in 1983 for treason. Only an international outcry won her release.