Republicans win large majorities in NH Legislature

CONCORD, N.H. --For the first time since 1984, Republicans have won 297 of New Hampshire's 400 House seats with the possibility of adding to the tally as final votes are counted from Tuesday's election.

Secretary of State William Gardner had to go back to 1962 to find a time when the GOP won 19 of the 24 Senate seats, as the party did Tuesday.

A handful of the House and Senate races were decided by a few votes and could change if recounted, Gardner said. Some newly elected representatives wind up not taking office for a variety of reasons, he added.

Republicans, who will be in charge for the first time in four years, will caucus on new leaders Nov. 18. Four have been campaigning for speaker.

They also have enough votes to pass into law any bills that Democratic Gov. John Lynch vetoes.

Near the top of the list for social conservatives is repeal of the gay marriage law Lynch signed last year.

Kevin Smith, director of Cornerstone Action, which advertised heavily against Lynch on the issue, said he was disappointed Lynch was re-elected but Republican majorities mean that "if he ever does decide to use his veto pen, he'll find it's out of ink."

The National Organization for Marriage said it spent more than $2.5 million on ads and mailings in key states, including New Hampshire, Minnesota, Iowa, and Maine. Brian Brown, the group's president, said the results show politicians supporting gay marriage will suffer "severe political consequences."

Republican leaders in New Hampshire were careful not to make the election about gay marriage, however, and focused instead on pocketbook issues. Gubernatorial nominee John Stephen, who benefited from the anti-Lynch ads on gay marriage, focused his campaign on fiscal issues, though he said he would sign a bill to repeal gay marriage.

Repealing gay marriage isn't a big issue in New Hampshire, pollster Andy Smith said. Voters got tired of Democrats, particularly at the federal level, he said.

"Most of what happened is economic-based," said Smith. "They got tired of one party and brought the other in."

Smith said Democrats benefited from similar unrest in 2006 when they took control of the Legislature.

Gardner attributes the huge swings partly to the large, multimember representative districts created in 2002 by the state Supreme Court after Democrats and Republicans deadlocked over redistricting. Then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, had vetoed the Republican plan.

"If the House ran 400 members statewide at large, you would have big swings. The bigger the districts, the bigger the swings," said Gardner.

A 2006 constitutional amendment restored lawmakers' ability to craft smaller, single-member districts. Republicans will be in charge of redistricting next year and Gardner expects the number of large multirepresentative districts to be reduced. That means the swings in numbers of seats controlled by each party won't be as great in future years, said Gardner.

Smith said Republicans risk angering voters if they try to interpret too broadly why they won. Besides repealing gay marriage, the agenda for conservative House Republicans includes repealing Democratic health insurance mandates and impeaching the education commissioner over education rules.

"A lot of people will tell you what they think you just saw," said Smith. 

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