BERLIN (AP) -- The last test for German politicians before next week's parliamentary vote is the Bavaria state election Sunday, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative allies hoping to provide momentum with a big win in the prosperous region.
It's hard to predict how the outcome in Bavaria might influence the Sept. 22 national election, but governor Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Merkel-allied Christian Social Union, has pledged to "sound the signal for victory nationwide."
Polls suggest his party, which has led Bavaria since 1957, can hope to win back an absolute majority in the state legislature it lost five years ago. The center-left Social Democrats of Merkel's challenger, Peer Steinbrueck, are traditionally weak in the state — even with an unusually strong Bavarian challenger, surveys show them gaining little ground.
Merkel, who is favored to win a third four-year term next week, has benefited from Germany's strong economy and low unemployment.
That's even truer in Bavaria, the tradition-minded homeland of retired Pope Benedict XVI and also a high-tech and industrial center, where nearly 9.5 million people are eligible to vote. Its jobless rate is just 3.8 percent, the lowest of any German state and well below the national average of 6.8 percent.
At his pre-election rallies, Seehofer has described Bavaria as "the gateway to paradise."
The outlook is more uncertain for the pro-market Free Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partners in the national government and Seehofer's in the Bavarian government, in Sunday's vote.
Polls have shown them struggling to hit the 5 percent support needed to keep their seats in the state legislature in Munich. Failing to do so would be an unwelcome signal before the national election, in which their weakness is a potential problem for Merkel.
National polls show Merkel's conservative bloc of her Christian Democratic Union and the Bavaria-only CSU leading the pack — though not by the 25-point margin or more the CSU enjoys in Bavaria.
However, they show her current center-right coalition roughly level with the combined opposition, with a lead of up to about 10 points over Steinbrueck's hoped-for alliance of his Social Democrats and the Greens. That suggests she may need a new coalition partner.
Merkel said Saturday she hopes for a "great result" from the CSU in Bavaria. In the national election, she said, "it will come down to every vote."
The campaign, she added, "will only be over when the polling stations close."