- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The last time New Mexico Republicans controlled the state House of Representatives, they rode the coattails of Dwight Eisenhower’s landside 1952 presidential victory.

The national political mood once again may help Republicans, and the party hopes to pick up enough seats in the general election to secure a House majority for the first time in 60 years.

If that happens, Republicans would set the legislative agenda in the House and could help advance GOP Gov. Susana Martinez’s policies if she wins re-election.

With Democrats clinging to a slim 37-33 edge, the GOP needs at least a net gain of three seats. There are competitive races in at least 10 House districts, with each party holding five of the seats.

Democrats control the Senate, but its members aren’t up for election until 2016.

The GOP’s House majority during Eisenhower’s term was brief. Democrats reclaimed control in the 1954 elections and have maintained a majority ever since.

But this year’s political landscape potentially favors the GOP, and could provide the boost the party will need in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans in voter registration 1.5-to-1.

With President Barack Obama’s popularity sagging, Democrats across the country are bracing for difficult midterm elections.

“When you have an unpopular Democratic president at midterm, Republicans tend to pick up seats,” said Brian Sanderoff, an Albuquerque pollster.

Martinez also could deliver a boost to Republicans if she attracts GOP-leaning New Mexicans to the polls in much the same way Obama aided Democrats when he won re-election in 2012. Voter turnout traditionally slides in midterm elections, and that means fewer Democrats casting ballots in New Mexico.

Martinez had widened her lead over Democrat Gary King in the most recent poll by the Albuquerque Journal. If Democratic voters become discouraged, Sanderoff said, low voter turnout could hurt Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

With so much at stake in the legislative races, Democratic and GOP super political action committees have dumped more than $1 million into the election and are targeting districts with mailers and radio ads.

A GOP-run House, Martinez said in a recent interview, “allows for the discussion to change from the same old status quo discussion that we have all the time.”

Republicans could push administration proposals that have stalled with Democrats at the helm. Among those is a measure to require schools to hold back third-graders who can’t read proficiently, rather than promote them to the next class. Students with reading problems, Martinez contends, are at greater risk of dropping out later.

One of the closely watched House races is in southern New Mexico where Democratic Rep. Phillip Archuleta of Las Cruces is running against the man he defeated two years ago, former Democrat Andy Nunez of Hatch.

Nunez switched from Democrat to independent in 2011 after a dispute with the top House leader. He lost his re-election in a three-way race in 2012, and then became a Republican.

Archuleta said he’s canvassing the district, using a motorized wheelchair to accompany campaign volunteers as they knock on doors. He missed this year’s legislative session while recuperating from having a leg amputated.

“In politics you never know what’s going to happen, especially in an off-year like now,” Archuleta said in a telephone interview. “I told my staff and I told my family, ‘No vacations, no days off from here on.’ We’re going to work every day.”

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Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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