DENVER (AP) — Democrats and Republicans are zeroing in on the outer ring of Denver’s suburbs in their battle for control of the state Legislature.

A half-dozen races in the area could determine if the Republicans’ two-year reign in the House ends, and its three Senate contests could help the GOP surge over Democrats in that chamber.

With Republicans dominating the House and Democrats controlling the Senate, neither party has been able to advance legislation that would put Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in a position to veto or sign high-profile bills, as evidenced by the death of civil unions legislation.

Republicans aren’t taking their 33-32 House advantage for granted in the upcoming election.

“There’s no doubt it’s going to be close, and I think that things are going to be close in Colorado for the foreseeable future,” said Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty. He said he believes his party can pick up three new seats to maintain a majority.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, leader of House Democrats, is brasher with his prediction.

“I feel very confident that we’ll be in the majority,” he said. “I think the question is how high that majority will be.”

Some of the contested House races involve incumbents in seats made more competitive by state redistricting last year.

Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan faces a tough re-election campaign in the southwest Denver suburbs against Republican Brian Watson.

Republican Rep. Robert Ramirez, whose 197-vote victory helped the GOP gain the majority in 2010, is being challenged by Tracy Kraft-Tharp in a Jefferson County district that has become more favorable to Democrats.

Districts in Jefferson and Arapahoe counties have become vote-rich areas where both parties see opportunities with independent voters.

“It’s been the case for a long time that Jefferson County is a bellwether for the direction of the state, and Arapahoe County has been moving in that direction,” McNulty said. “I suspect it’s because you have these communities with a broader level of diversity. You also have folks who are focused on pocketbook issues — families trying to make ends meet.”

The suburbs are also where domination of the Senate is being contested. Democrats currently have a 20-15 advantage, but Republicans see a chance to take over the chamber — or at least make gains to be in position for a takeover in 2014, when some Democratic incumbents will hit term limits in competitive districts.

Four important Senate races are being contested, including three in Jefferson and Arapahoe counties.

Republicans are trying to knock off two Democrats considered vulnerable — Sen. Evie Hudak, who faces Lang Sias, and Sen. Linda Newell, who is running against Dave Kerber.

Two House representatives, Democrat Andy Kerr and Republican Ken Summers, are vying for a Senate seat in Lakewood. Another Senate district being contested is in rural southeast Colorado and leans Democratic.

“We think we have a really good shot at turning this around,” said Republican Senate Leader Bill Cadman.

“It’s possible. It’s just not very probable,” responded Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll.

Both parties agree that the races will come down to which candidate can make a better pitch to voters about improving the economy. Republicans stress less regulation on business and tax cuts, while Democrats favor tax incentives for companies and investing in research and innovation projects.

Carroll expects the races to be close.

“I think we might be counting votes until late until the night,” she said.

House seats in Gunnison, Pueblo and El Paso County are also in play, with some incumbents facing difficult re-election bids.

By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer (© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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