Democrats see opportunities after US House win in New Mexico

Democrats are hoping to move forward with voter advocacy after a New Mexico special election victory.

Melanie+Stansbury

SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN/Associated Press

Democratic congressional candidate Melanie Stansbury speaks during a campaign rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico Thursday.

SANTA FE, New Mexico — The Albuquerque area delivered a resounding victory to a Democratic congressional candidate who embraced the Biden administration’s economic recovery plans, as voters rebuffed Republican overtures across its heavily suburban and Latino political landscape.

Tuesday’s special election vaulted 42-year-old Democrat Melanie Stansbury, a second-term state representative, into the congressional seat held previously by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.

The election is a precursor to a handful of races to fill vacancies in Congress ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Democrats held a 219-211 majority in Congress going into Tuesday’s vote in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District.

Stansbury won roughly 60% of the vote in a four-way race, defeating three-term Republican state Sen. Mark Moores. 

Uncertified election results on Wednesday showed a victory margin of 24.5 percentage points for Stansbury — far greater than Haaland’s 16-point win in 2020. That even edged past Biden’s 23-point win in New Mexico last year.

Stansbury highlighted a working-class, public school upbringing in Albuquerque, and she embraced top-line Democratic initiatives on pandemic relief, infrastructure spending and interventions to slow climate change.

State Democratic Party officials said they used the special election to rebuild advocacy infrastructure and return to in-person political events, keeping in mind the party’s narrow majority in Congress.

Stansbury leveraged fundraising drives by splitting contributions with other Democratic politicians. Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, campaigned in New Mexico alongside Stansbury during the final week of early voting.

Stansbury Emhoff
Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, campaigned in New Mexico on behalf of newly elected representative Melanie Stansbury, background, during a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on May 27, 2021. This was Emhoff’s first trip on behalf of a candidate. (SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN/Associated Press)

The Democratic effort contacted voters 350,000 times in its largest field program for the district in more than a decade, state party chairperson Jessica Velasquez said.

“We know that we can’t afford to lose a single seat,” Velasquez said. “I think that this race bodes really well for Democrats moving forward. We’ve seen a lot more Democrats turning out to vote early, a huge amount of enthusiasm, especially since we’ve returned to holding some in-person events and frankly it’s been a great opportunity for us to continue to build Democratic infrastructure.”

Moores focused on local concerns about the crime rate in Albuquerque over national politics, and he leveled criticism at New Mexico’s delayed reopening of the economy as the pandemic wanes. The public safety mantra bore echoes of Donald Trump and his condemnation last year of crime rates in Democrat-led cities when he dispatched federal agents to Albuquerque.

Rod Adair, a demographer and political consultant who previously served as a Republican in the New Mexico state Senate, said the Republican congressional nominee lost ground in voting margins for each of the five counties represented in the 1st Congressional District compared with 2020 voting returns.

He said the Republican Party was unable to help a skilled GOP candidate, and failed to link the economic distress of the pandemic to Democratic leadership in the White House and the New Mexico governor’s office.

The Republican brand kind of just wrapped themselves around the Trump brand, and they haven’t shaken loose from it”

— Sisto Abeyta

“The party was invisible,” Adair said. “Overriding all of this, New Mexico is migrating leftward, and we’ve seen that in the political demographics of the state and especially in” the 1st Congressional District.

Stanbury’s victory preserves an all-female House delegation for the state. Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell last year ousted a Democratic incumbent from the conservative-leaning 2nd Congressional District in southern New Mexico. 

The 1st Congressional District contains Albuquerque, rural Torrance County and other outlying areas that include the Indigenous community of Sandia Pueblo. Libertarian nominee Chris Manning won a little over 1% of Tuesday’s vote, and independent Aubrey Dunn Jr. got nearly 3%.

The district’s voters have heavily favored Democratic candidates in recent years. Before 2008, the district often backed Republicans for Congress, including Heather Wilson, who later became secretary of the U.S. Air Force under President Trump.

Democratic political consultant Sisto Abeyta says the state’s Democratic voters remain highly averse to the Trump brand of politics that still overshadows GOP candidates.

“The Republican brand kind of just wrapped themselves around the Trump brand, and they haven’t shaken loose from it,” Abeyta told KANW radio.

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