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Jubilant GOP Sees Win in New Mexico as Bellwether

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Republicans on Wednesday celebrated their victory in an expensive special election in New Mexico, heralding Heather Wilson’s triumph as a prelude to continued control of the House and gains elsewhere in the fall.

Democrats who earlier depicted the race as a leading indicator of voter sentiment nationwide said they will rebound in November.

“So much for Democrat dreams of wielding the gavel any time soon,” Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson said Wednesday. “This victory slams the door shut on any Democrat hopes for regaining the House.”

“We would have loved to have won the seat. That’s self-evident,” conceded Steven Grossman, chairman of the Democratic Party. But he quickly added that Wilson “will have one of the shortest tenures in the history of American politics . . . when she joins the do-nothing, dysfunctional, Newt Gingrich-led Congress, I think the voters will turn her out on Nov. 3.”

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For now, though, Wilson’s triumph over state Sen. Phil Maloof in the Albuquerque area restores the 11-seat House majority Republicans held until the death of GOP Rep. Steven Schiff.

Moreover, in what promises to be a brutal fall campaign for control of the House to be waged in a relatively small number of congressional districts, her victory is the latest in a recent string of generally positive indicators for the GOP.

* In Oklahoma, Rep. Wes Watkins, generally viewed as the only Republican who can win in his district, recently abandoned plans to retire.

* In primary results in California, Republicans nominated two moderate candidates for seats being vacated by Democrats, results that party officials said maximize chances for victory in the fall.

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* A recent nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center found that voters were split almost evenly in expressing a preference for one party’s candidate over another this fall, with an even stronger outlook for the GOP among likely voters. A similar survey in March reported a 52% to 40% edge for the Democrats among registered voters.

For their part, Democrats have had recent successes to point to.

In Mississippi, for example, where GOP Rep. Mike Parker is retiring, a conservative Democrat won nomination without a runoff after a three-way race, cheering party leaders in Washington.

By contrast, the GOP challenger won a runoff on Tuesday and now must unify a party divided by a heated first round of balloting this month, punctuated by an FBI investigation into alleged dirty tricks by one contender.

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