ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) â€” New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and her Republican allies lost ground in the state House of Representatives in the general election but gained seats in the Senate, including ousting a pair of Democratic leaders.
The GOP waged a fierce legislative campaign battle in hopes of knocking off enough Democrats to take control of the House for the first time in nearly 60 years, but unofficial returns suggested the party went the other direction and lost seats.
Although several races remained tight and the outcome uncertain, Democrats expect a net gain of three seats for a possible 39-31 majority. House Democrats currently hold a slim 36-33 edge and there's one independent.
"New Mexicans have rejected the politics of personal destruction and instead have chosen the Democratic agenda of strengthening our working families," House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said Wednesday in a statement.
In the Senate, the GOP picked up at least three seats but Democrats retain a majority â€” likely 25-17, although one race with a Democratic incumbent remained close, and the outcome wasn't certain in a couple of other races.
Jay McCleskey, the governor's political adviser who ran a political committee that targeted two dozen legislative races, expressed disappointment with the loss of several GOP House incumbents in tight races but pointed out that two GOP women â€” one Native American and one Hispanic â€” won previously Democratic seats.
"In a tough night for Republicans nationally and at the top of the ticket in New Mexico, we are pleased that we were able to win three seats in the state Senate, including defeating two of the three Democratic Senate leaders," said McCleskey.
New Mexico went with Democrat Barack Obama in the presidential race and Democrat Martin Heinrich for the U.S. Senate, but Republicans unseated the state Senate's top leader, President Pro Tem Tim Jennings of Roswell, and the No. 3 Democratic leader, Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia of Dona Ana.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat, survived a costly effort by pro-Martinez forces to make a clean sweep of the top Democratic leadership. Sanchez, who has served in the Senate since 1993, handily defeated Republican David Doyle, a Los Lunas lawyer who gave up a House seat to run for the Senate.
Jennings lost to a young Roswell farmer, Cliff Pirtle, who had never before held elective office.
Jennings had the distinction of being the Democrat in the Legislature who represented the most solidly GOP-leaning district. It finally caught up with him in this election after having served in the Senate since 1979.
Reform New Mexico Now, the political committee run by McCleskey, flooded Jennings' southeastern New Mexico district with mailings and advertising attacking his positions on a host of issues, including taxes and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.
Jennings, a rancher, has served as Senate president since 2008.
In an Albuquerque-area Senate race, Republican Mark Moores defeated Democratic incumbent Lisa Curtis, who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy when a GOP senator resigned.
Garcia had served in the Senate since 1989 but lost to Republican Lee Cotter of Las Cruces. Garcia ran into trouble after being fined for campaign finance violations.
The first-term governor, who isn't up for re-election until 2014, used her fundraising muscle to help Republican candidates across the state and she attempted to transform some legislative elections into a referendum on her policies.
GOP and Democratic-leaning political action committees poured more than $3 million into the general election campaign, an unprecedented amount for legislative races in New Mexico.
At least three House incumbents lost their re-elections bids: Democrat Ray Begaye of Shiprock, Republican James Hall of Los Alamos, and Andy Nunez, an independent who last year switched from being a Democrat after a dispute with the top House leader. Three first-term GOP incumbents trailed in close races: Conrad James of Albuquerque, Terry McMillan of Las Cruces, and Rick Little of Chaparral.
Follow Barry Massey at https://twitter.com/bmassey .
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