In New Mexico, Yet Another Special Election Seen As Proxy for 2022

May 30, 2021 by Dan McCue
Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Voters in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District will go to the polls on Tuesday to choose a replacement for Deb Haaland, the former Democratic representative for the district who left Congress to become President Joe Biden’s secretary of the Interior.

And like other special elections this year, the outcome will be seen as a proxy for the upcoming 2022 mid-term election, a contest House Republicans hope will end with them back in the majority.

Recent polls suggest Republican Mark Moores, a state senator since 2013, has an outside shot at winning, particularly due to the relative lack of experience of his Democratic opponent.

Democratic state Rep. Melanie Stansbury has been in the state legislature for only two years, having formerly worked as an aide to the state Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Prior to that, her only political experience was working in the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget.

Moores and his wife also worked on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, being partners at a laboratory involved in testing since early in the pandemic.

He also played football for the University of New Mexico and has roots in the state going back to the time of the first Spanish settlers.

Though he openly opposes some of President Biden’s policies, he has been running as a moderate Republican.

“I’m the kind of leader who is willing to work across the aisle, and work with partners in the Democrat Party, or any other for that matter,” Moores said during an interview on KOB4, an NBC-affiliated television station in Albuquerque. 

Candidates running in Tuesday’s special election to fill the 1st Congressional District seat in New Mexico vacated by Deb Haaland. (From left) Melanie Stansbury, Mark Moores and Chris Manning.

As early voting got underway in the district on May 5, Moores and the state Republican party were focusing most of their messaging to voters on energy and jobs.

“New Mexico has really suffered a lot because of the Biden administration ban on oil and gas drilling,” Moore said during a recent interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

And the contest could, legitimately turn out to be a bellwether.

Republicans made significant gains with Hispanic and Latino voters in 2020.

As results rolled in from Florida on election night, it quickly became evident that Joe Biden was underperforming in Miami-Dade County, home to most of Florida’s Cuban community. 

Later in the evening, as tracked by FiveThirtyEight, a similar story emerged from a handful of heavily Mexican American counties along Texas’s southern border.

Biden ultimately won most of these counties in both Florida and Texas, but by much slimmer margins than Hillary Clinton had four years earlier. 

That’s why, despite Biden’s win in Arizona, another state with many Latino voters, the GOP sees the New Mexico race as an early test of Biden’s strength with this portion of the electorate — nearly half of the state’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.

The party is also banking on the historically low turnout for special elections to tamp down the Democratic vote and give the Republican a better chance of winning.

But there are plenty of signs it’s not going to be easy.

To begin with, the Republicans last won an election for the seat in 2006. 

Heather Wilson, the last Republican to hold the seat, went on to lose two races for the U.S. Senate, but later became secretary for the Air Force under former President Donald Trump.

Before Haaland, the seat was held by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich.

In the 2020 election, Biden won the district 60.2% to Trump’s 37.4%, representing an increase from Hillary Clinton’s 51.6% in 2016 and President Barack Obama’s 55.3% in 2012.

Haaland defeated 2020 Republican challenger, Michelle Garcia Holmes, by an overwhelming 58-42% margin.

The district also encompasses the state’s largest city — Albuquerque – and its surrounding suburbs, places where Republicans have seen a dramatic slippage of support in recent years.

Another complication for Moores is that currently, there is a Libertarian, Chris Manning, on the ballot, which could see some traditional Republican support move to the Libertarian column.

But Manning’s presence on the ballot isn’t without controversy. He was selected as the candidate by the New Mexico Libertarian Party, and a group of other Libertarians has filed a lawsuit, trying to get him tossed off the ballot.

The lawsuit contends the Libertarian Party should not be considered a major party, which is a party that receives at least 5% of the vote. Candidates who are not part of a major party must receive signatures to get on the ballot. However, Chris Manning was selected by his party without signatures, the complaint says.

Manning told KOB4 he believes this lawsuit is a thinly veiled attempt to benefit others running for the seat. 

“Libertarians, we’re used to trying to get thrown off the ballot. Democrats and Republicans have been trying to keep us off the ballot for decades. So this isn’t anything new. We’re used to it,” he said.

And what of Stansbury? She’s certainly winning the money race.

As the campaign entered its final days, Stansbury has outraised Moores by more than 2:1.

Stansbury raised more than $1.3 million as of May 12, and more than $152,000 since. On May 12, she had almost $525,000 on hand. The largest share of her war chest came from large individual contributions, which have continued to roll in as election day approaches.

PACs account for about 17% of her total fundraising. Elect Democratic Women, a PAC founded by Democratic women in the House, is among Stansbury’s donors, giving $15,000 since she launched her primary campaign for the seat earlier this year.

In the same timeframe, Democratic fundraising powerhouse EMILY’s List gave her $11,500, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s PAC to the Future gave $10,000. 

Stansbury defeated a more progressive opponent, state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, in a runoff vote during the party nominating convention that selected the general election candidates. 

Stansbury’s campaign received contributions and endorsements from both the Progressive Turnout Project and the Congressional Progressive Caucus after she pledged to support a $15 minimum wage and Medicare for All.

Moores, by comparison, has brought in just over $595,000, including a loan of $200,000 from the candidate himself. 

As of May 12, he had a little less than $126,000 on hand.

Only 5% of Moores’ fundraising total came from out-of-state donors, whereas out-of-state contributions make up around 38% of Stansbury’s total, according to RollCall. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee donated $5,000 to Moores in April, following his primary nomination. The National Rifle Association contributed $1,000.

Manning, the Libertarian candidate, has raised only $5,000.

Stansbury has also picked up endorsements from leading Democratic lawmakers including Haaland, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and New Mexico Sens. Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich, both of whom are Democrats.

If Stansbury wins, New Mexico will keep its unusual all-female U.S. House delegation. Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell represents the state’s southern 2nd District and Democratic Rep. Theresa Leger Fernandez represents its northern 3rd District.

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