SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A major Southwestern metro region delivered a resounding victory to a Democratic congressional candidate who embraced the Biden administration's prescription's for economic recovery, as voters rebuffed Republican overtures across Albuquerque's 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 Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
The election is a precursor to a handful of races to fill vacancies in Congress ahead of 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, handing a stinging defeat to 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 — her mother was a factor worker and crane operator — and she embraced top-line Democratic initiatives on pandemic relief, infrastructure spending and interventions to slow climate change.
State Democratic Party official say 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.
The Democratic effort contacted voters 350,000 times in its largest field program for the district in more than a decade, state party Chairwoman Jessica Velasquez said.
“We know that we can’t afford to lose a single seat" in Congress, 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.”
Republicans had little to salvage from the lopsided loss.
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 Trump and his condemnation last year of crime rates in Democrat-led cities as 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, noted that 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 described a “moribund” state Republican Party that 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 party was invisible,” Adair said of the GOP. “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 encompasses 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. Prior to 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.
“We’re used to the Pete Domenici Republicans,” Abeyta told KANW radio, in reference to the deceased six-term U.S. senator who retired in 2008. “The Republican brand kind of just wrapped themselves around the Trump brand, and they haven’t shaken loose from it."