DETROIT (AP) – Negative ads dominated this year’s campaign to control the state House as Republicans fought to keep the majority they first won in 1998.

A combination of term limits and newly reapportioned districts opened 53 seats in the 110-member House, forcing voters in many districts to choose between new candidates in yesterday’s election

This year’s election was the toughest challenge for the GOP to keep control of the House since it first won a 58-52 majority four years ago and kept its margin in 2000.

Late last night, GOP House Speaker Rick Johnson of LeRoy said he expected the Republicans to win at least 59 seats.

“We always felt real comfortable with the quality of candidates we had,” said Johnson, a LeRoy tree farmer. “We had a great work ethic.”

A spokesman for the House Democrats wasn’t immediately available for comment last night.

Nine Republicans and 14 Democrats in the House have served the maximum three two-year terms and can’t run again because of term limits. Some of them and dozens of other House members ran for the state Senate, where 27 of 38 incumbents are leaving because of term limits.

New candidates created tight House races in Alpena, Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Canton, Dearborn Heights, Fenton, Grand Rapids, Manchester, Muskegon and St. Clair Shores. In several of those close campaigns, negative mailings, television and radio ads blasted the candidates.

In the 97th House District, which covers the counties of Clare, Gladwin, Arenac and part of Bay, Democrat Jennifer Elkins and Republican David Coker both were the subject of negative ads.

With 51 percent of the precincts reporting, Elkins, a Clare County commissioner from Lake, had a slight lead over Coker with 52 percent of the vote, or 6,885 votes. Coker, a funeral home director from Farwell, had 48 percent of the vote, or 6,361 votes.

One Republican ad criticized Elkins for receiving public assistance. She said she hasn’t received a welfare check in years, but receives assistance for her children.

Coker was the subject of a Democratic ad that said he had 14 tax liens placed on his business since 1988. He said his taxes are now caught up.

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