Chancellor Angela Merkel is highlighting Germany's economic strength and dismissing worries that her party could be dragged down by its struggling coalition partner as she kicks off campaigning for an important state election.

Merkel's center-right coalition faces a tough battle to extend its 10-year hold on Lower Saxony state in the Jan. 20 election. Polls suggest the center-left opposition has a good chance of winning — giving it a significant boost ahead of September national elections in which Merkel will seek a third term.

Merkel, speaking Saturday after her conservative Christian Democrats' leadership met in Lower Saxony, criticized opposition plans for tax increases.

Merkel's party leads polls in Lower Saxony and nationally but its junior partner, the pro-market Free Democratic Party, is very weak.