A House special election Tuesday in New Mexico is likely to add a Democrat to Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s slim House majority.
State Rep. Melanie Stansbury is favored to defeat Republican state Sen. Mark Moores in the Albuquerque-based 1st District. Former Rep. Deb Haaland vacated her seat in the Democratic-leaning area in March to become President Joe Biden’s Interior secretary.
Stansbury’s election would give Pelosi a 220th vote in the Democratic Caucus and fill one of five vacant seats — three of them most recently held by Democrats.
A 213-212 House vote May 20 for a $1.9 billion Capitol security spending bill (H.R. 3237) underscored the fragility of Pelosi’s majority. Republicans were united in opposition, and six progressive Democrats withheld their support over concerns the bill would increase funding for policing agencies.
“Democrats desperately need to hold this seat,” Michael Rocca, a political scientist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, said in an interview.
The district’s recent preference for Democratic candidates, Stansbury’s fundraising advantage, and the absence of significant independent spending by out-of-state political groups underscore her edge.
In the 2020 election, New Mexico’s 1st voted 60%-37% for Joe Biden over Donald Trump, though it was less heavily Democratic in down-ballot elections — 56%-41% for Ben Ray Luján (D) in the Senate election and 58%-42% for Haaland in her re-election, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government.
That built-in edge will likely provide Stansbury enough of a cushion to overcome any potential underperformance, which can befall the White House’s party in special elections. Voters of the out-of-power party are often more energized and turn out to send a message to the administration.
The 1st is descended from the district Republicans Steve Schiff and Heather Wilson represented before it turned Democratic in the late 2000s. Demographic shifts have contributed to New Mexico’s 1st District increasingly voting Democratic, but it is “only slightly left-of-center,” Rocca said.
Many residents work in the energy and defense industries, and there’s a large Hispanic population that’s largely socially conservative but economically liberal. The district’s citizen voting-age population is about 46% white and 44% Hispanic, according to Census Bureau estimates.
On the Issues
Stansbury said her top three priorities in Congress are getting the economy back on track, helping communities meet fundamental needs such as access to housing and food, and addressing climate change and drought. She promoted Biden administration initiatives, including a $1.9 trillion stimulus law and his infrastructure plan, while also emphasizing bipartisanship.
“I think we have to work across the aisle as much as possible,” she said in an interview.
Moores made public safety a dominant issue of his campaign amid a spike in crime in the Albuquerque area. He repeatedly attacked Stansbury for voicing support for a proposal by Black Lives Matters activists that is known as the Breathe Act, which would spend less money on policing and also repeal some programs and agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Breathe Act, which hasn’t been formally introduced as a bill in the 117th Congress, is “one of the most radical, anti-police and law enforcement bills ever,” Moore said in a candidate debate. His campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Stansbury said Moores is using “a playbook that is being deployed across the country” by Republicans accusing Democrats of seeking to “defund the police.” She supports a Democratic policing overhaul bill (H.R. 1280) the House passed in March and called for improvements to behavioral health policy.
The issues and themes of the special election provide “a testing ground for what we might see next year in the midterm election,” Rocca said.
Stansbury reported $1.4 million in campaign receipts through May 12 compared with $595,000 for Moores, whose total included a $200,000 personal loan, Federal Election Commission reports show.
Stansbury’s donors included Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and the Sierra Club. 314 Action Fund, which works to elect more STEM professionals to Congress, endorsed and donated to Stansbury, a lifelong science enthusiast who worked on water and natural resources policies for the Office of Management and Budget and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Moores’ donors included Rep. Yvette Herrell (R) of New Mexico’s 2nd District and the political committees of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) and the National Federation of Independent Business, but not top House Republican leaders.
The ballot also includes Libertarian Chris Manning and independent Aubrey Dunn, a former Republican who was New Mexico’s land commissioner.
The early-voting period ran from May 4 to May 29. Voting ends at 9 p.m. ET.
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org