By John Toole
Control of the New Hampshire Legislature is a dominant campaign theme following a controversial two-year term.
Provocative reforms pushed by tea party, Libertarian and Free Stater blocs in the House highlighted the session.
A majority of respondents to a University of New Hampshire poll this spring disapproved of the job the Legislature is doing, 42 to 40 percent. The poll has a margin of error of 4.2 percent.
There will be 400 House seats and 24 Senate seats at stake. Republicans hold commanding majorities. They rule the House, 290-104, with six vacancies. They control the Senate, 19-5.
"I think there is a general sense, at least hope, among Democrats that a little balancing will take place," said Dean Spiliotes, Southern New Hampshire University political science professor. "Given there has been a fair bit of turmoil the past couple of years, the Democrats have a shot."
They may be helped by moderate Republicans who bemoaned the Legislature's sharp turn right.
The Senate's role is especially important. This session it upheld its traditional role as a firewall against bills passed in the House.
Democrats see opportunity with many retirements. Republicans have seven incumbents retiring. An eighth GOP senator is trying to return after moving into another district, where he faces a primary.
"There is a tremendous amount of excitement within the Democratic Party, across every district, to restore practical solutions to the state Senate," said Raymond Buckley, state Democratic Party chairman.
Democrats have had two retirements. But they have assembled a deep lineup to challenge Republicans. That includes three former senators, one a past president of the Senate, as well as a past state party chairman.
"We have put forward an incredible field," Buckley said.
But Republicans are confident they will still control the Senate after the election.
"Republicans are well positioned to maintain our majority in the Senate," state GOP executive director Tory Mazzola said. "Our GOP candidates have helped rein in the excessive government growth from years of Democrat control. As a result, they've held the line on spending and helped create jobs in New Hampshire."
Across Southern New Hampshire, Republicans will play from a position of strength in the Senate campaign.
Incumbents Chuck Morse of Salem, Jim Rausch of Derry, Sharon Carson of Londonderry and Rick Prescott of Kingston are all running for re-election.
Prescott's chances were boosted through redistricting, which added Republican-leaning Sandown to his district.
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