Angela Merkel's conservatives gave her an 11-minute standing ovation after handing her another term as party chief but also issued a warning in re-electing her with the worst score since she became German chancellor.
With the mixed verdict Tuesday from her party rank and file on her bid for a fourth term, Merkel embarks on her toughest election campaign weakened by her liberal refugee policy that has polarised Europe's biggest economy.
While 89.5 percent is hardly a score to be scoffed at, it fell just short of the 90 percent of Christian Democratic Union delegates seen as a crucial threshold.
"It shows that she has lost confidence but has not fully regained it," said Spiegel Online.
Rheinische Post daily agreed, saying that "it is clear that this chancellor is no longer strong enough to simply use 'you know me' to win the 2017 elections," referring to a previous Merkel slogan.
"That attitude, which helped her in the 2013 (general election) campaign, almost led to her doom in the refugee crisis. For too long, she has trusted her party and voters to simply follow her," it said.
Merkel's decision last September to let in people fleeing war has become her Achilles' heel, as public resentment mounted after more than a million asylum seekers have arrived in Europe's biggest economy since the start of 2015.
The displeasure has been manifested in setbacks for her party in five consecutive state elections this year, as the upstart populist AfD recorded a surge of support on the back of their campaign railing against migrants.
Delegates at the CDU's annual congress are particularly anxious to halt a further haemorrhage of supporters to the AfD, as three more state elections loom next year in the run-up to the nationwide polls.
"We're winning few voters from the left, but we're losing a lot to the right," said delegate Eugen Abele, accusing Merkel of positioning the party too far left and giving room for the AfD to stake a claim to the party's right.
Recognising the public resentment over her refugee policy, Merkel has ditched last year's mantra of "we can do this".
Rather, she laid out a tough stance on immigration and even called for a partial ban on the Muslim full-face veil, as she pleaded with her delegates for help in her fight for a fourth term.
Wolfgang Reinhart, CDU lawmaker in the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament, told AFP he welcomed the chancellor's "new tone" stating that refugee and migration policies will become more restrictive.
But he also recognised that "we still don't have a way to deal with the new nationalism and populism" challenge put by the AfD.
For the Green party's parliamentary chief Anton Hofreiter, Merkel was pandering to the conservative right with her new stance.
"The CDU is leaving the liberal middle-ground and shifting right," he told Die Welt daily.
The regional daily Lausitzer Rundschau was harsher in its criticism of the battle strategy outlined by Merkel on Tuesday, saying it "lacked the rational power to convince" and showed "no mission".
"The chancellor and her CDU are lucky that the right in Germany hasn't found someone as determined and unscrupulous as Donald Trump," it said.