Reinvigorated Republicans hoping to win back New Hampshire's Statehouse next year will be pushing something Democrats want to avoid in an election year: controversy.
Republicans plan to stick with the anti-tax, low government spending themes that made them New Hampshire's party of power for decades. They want voters to blame Democrats for losing their jobs, their homes to foreclosure and their economic security in a lingering recession.
Former Republican House Speaker Donna Sytek says that's how the game is played.
"The party out of power is going to try to blame the party in power for the miseries of the day," she said.
Republican leaders aren't focusing on repealing the Democrat-controlled Legislature's approval of gay marriage this year _ though some members of the GOP caucus have filed bills to do so. Nor are they bringing up Democrats' failed effort to protect transgender residents from discrimination. Fiscal issues, not social ones, are GOP priorities, said House Republican Leader Sherman Packard of Londonderry.
Republicans leaders have filed bills to repeal unpopular taxes and to cut state spending. With Democrats firmly in charge, though, the Republican proposals aren't likely to pass. But that isn't the point; the point is to force debate on money issues and to keep them before voters until the November election.
Democrats _ like majority parties in the past _ will have another goal: avoiding controversy. Some controversial bills will come up in the first week of January in the House. But most, such as legalizing assisted suicide and requiring small businesses to provide employees with paid sick leave, lack committee support for passage.
"I don't foresee any significant controversial legislation out there that's likely to work its way through," said House Speaker Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat.
Republicans sense the three years of Democratic rule could be weakening. Packard believes Republicans can retake control of both legislative chambers. The opportunity is there, but Republicans still must recruit good candidates to win the seats, Sytek said.
Republicans also need a coherent message, she said.
"It's got to be more than, 'We're against this,'" she said.
Former GOP Party Chairman Fergus Cullen said he was encouraged that Senate Republicans outlined an agenda aimed at creating jobs, making health care more accessible, protecting taxpayers and making government more transparent.
"Republicans have been a little bit adrift in the Legislature since they unexpectedly found themselves in the minority," he said.
Senate Republican Leader Peter Bragdon said he'd like the Senate GOP bills to pass, but if they don't, voters will know where Republicans stand. If Republicans regain control, they'll have be prepared to push the agenda through, he said.
Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, and other analysts believe the biggest threat to Democratic control is the poor economy, particularly if Republicans can convince voters Democrats have done a bad job leading the state through the recession. New Hampshire's voting demographics favor Democrats but that may not be enough to keep them in power given voters' grim mood over the economy, Scala said.
Norelli agrees Democrats will need to let voters know they've done a good job steering New Hampshire through the recession, but she believes they have done a good job and voters will see it.
"There are signs we are on our way," she said.
Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan of Exeter said years of Republican policies "drove the economy into the ditch." The GOP's proposed spending cuts and tax reductions would unfairly shift costs to local property taxpayers, and voters will see that, she said.
Hassan also said Democratic leaders aren't idle and are looking for ways to promote the state's economic recovery and job growth.
Still, as the party in power, Democrats will have to convince voters they'll do a better job than Republicans going forward.
If it appears that the economy is not doing well in the spring, candidates will have to explain why the economy is in bad shape, said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
"That puts Democrats on the defensive because they are the ones in charge of the economy both nationwide and in New Hampshire," Smith said.