- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Republicans received a boost from a popular governor and a favorable national political environment to win a majority in the state House for the first time in more than half a century.

The GOP gained four House seats in Tuesday’s election, according to unofficial returns. That’s enough for the party to take control of the chamber - a feat the GOP hasn’t accomplished since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Democrats hold a 37-33 edge currently, and that’s the advantage the GOP will enjoy when the Legislature convenes in January.

The party with a majority of House seats can elect the chamber’s top leader and control the flow of legislation. GOP control could help Republican Gov. Susana Martinez advance her agenda.

“We’re just kind of pinching ourselves still after last night,” GOP Whip Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, who is a leading contender to become speaker of the House, said Wednesday.



Despite the shift in power in the House, Democrats will maintain a 25-17 majority in the Senate because its members aren’t up for election for another two years.

House Speaker W. Ken Martinez of Grants attributed Democratic losses to record low turnout among voters and a “midterm election malaise.” Fewer voters typically cast ballots in midterm elections than when the state elects a president.

“It was the second midterm so we knew it was going to be tough. But I guess it was tougher than anybody had ever expected,” he said in a telephone interview. “We’re fewer in number, but we’re no less in resolve to articulate and advocate for New Mexico’s working families.”

Newly elected House Republicans plan to meet over the weekend and select their leadership, Gentry said. The speakership won’t become final until January, when the Legislature convenes and all 70 members vote on the top leadership position. The GOP nominee will win the job if the party sticks together, however.

Gentry said it’s too early to predict what specific proposals Republicans will try to advance that have been blocked when Democrats controlled the House.

“What you can expect to change is there has been a reluctance from the majority over the past 62 years to try different policies that have worked elsewhere and I think will work here,” Gentry said. “It’s been very frustrating on the education front and the economic-development front to not be able to get done those things that have worked elsewhere.”

In a state where Democrats hold a 3-to-2 advantage in voter registration, low voter participation hurts Democrats more than Republicans. The governor also easily won re-election and her candidacy aided other GOP candidates by drawing Republicans to the polls in an election with lackluster turnout.

Republicans last controlled the House in 1953-54, after receiving a boost from Eisenhower’s landslide 1952 presidential victory. Democrats returned to power with the 1954 elections and have maintained a majority since then.

This year, however, voter discontent with Democratic President Barack Obama’s policies helped Republicans across the country. The party in power in the White House historically suffers electoral losses in midterm elections.

In New Mexico, the GOP gained eight state House seats in 2010 during the last midterm election of the Obama administration. But Democrats regained ground two years later when Obama carried the state in winning a second term.

The governor is excited about working with a GOP House majority, but she “believes it’s important that legislators continue to tackle problems in a bipartisan manner, and she will continue to reach out to Democrats in both chambers,” campaign spokesman Chris Sanchez said.

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

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