After suffering an electoral setback a month ago in a congressional special election in Texas and defending their razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats are taking no chances this time around in neighboring New Mexico in the showdown for a safe House seat the party’s held for a dozen years.
Voters are heading to the polls Tuesday in a special election in the state’s 1st Congressional District in the race to succeed Deb Haaland, who stepped down from her seat earlier this year after she was confirmed as interior secretary in President Biden’s Cabinet.
The district, in the central part of New Mexico, includes roughly three-quarters of Albuquerque, the state’s largest city. It’s a solidly blue seat – Haaland won reelection last year by 16 points and Biden carried the district by 23 points over then-President Trump.
“They take nothing for granted in this race because the consequences of failure would be far too great,” a longtime Democratic strategist and veteran of House races told Fox News.
“It looks to me like Democrats are trying to make sure they’re victorious without diverting real resources from competitive races down the road,” noted the strategist, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely. “They’re doing everything they can and everything they need to short of putting real money into winning this race.”
Two of the top Democrats in New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, have teamed up with Stansbury in the closing stretch leading up to Election Day.
And last week Biden put out a statement personally endorsing Stansbury, a state representative.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has infused a modest amount of resources in the race. “Democrats aren’t taking any votes for granted and are committed to ensuring New Mexicans make their voices heard in this important election,” DCCC spokesman Adrian Eng-Gastelum told Fox News last week.
Stansbury dramatically outraised the Republican candidate in the race – state Sen. Mark Moores – and she’s outspent him by a two-to-one margin to run ads. And local observers say Stansbury enjoyed a substantial advantage over Moores following the two weeks of early voting, which ended Saturday.
With Tuesday’s election falling directly after Memorial Day, Joe Monahan, a veteran nonpartisan New Mexico political analyst and reporter, predicted that “most of the vote will be cast during the early voting period, which the Democrats are dominating.”
But with two other candidates in the race – a Libertarian and an independent – he said there’s a slight chance for an upset “based on very low turnout or some kind of freak incident.”
Some Democrats are concerned that anything less than a strong, double-digit victory by Stansbury will be portrayed by Republicans as a Democratic setback and harbinger of things to come in the 2022 midterm elections, when the GOP needs a net gain of just five seats to win back the House majority they lost in 2018. But other Democrats point to the multicandidate field and the likely low turnout in the special election to argue against reading too much into the eventual margin of victory.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and pro-GOP outside groups have stayed on the sidelines. “This is an uphill battle for Republicans,” a Republican strategist familiar with congressional races told Fox News.
But taking a page from a Republican playbook that resulted in some unexpected victories in House elections last November, Moores is focusing much of his campaign on a surge in crime and the push by some on the left to “defund the police.”
Albuquerque, like other urban areas across the country, has witnessed a breakout in crime, and Moores is zeroing in on that, as well as highlighting Stansbury’s initial support for the BREATHE Act, a wide-ranging push for policing reform penned by activists allied with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Rampant crime, drug violence, a record number of homicides in Albuquerque this year. It’s never been more dangerous. Melanie Stanbury’s plan – supporting legislation that defunds the police,” charges the narrator in a recent Moores commercial that Stansbury disputes.
It’s not just his ads. Moores repeatedly spotlights the crime issue and the BREATHE Act as he campaigns across the district. And on Sunday the state GOP tweeted, “Keep New Mexico Safe! Vote for Republican Mark Moores!”
At a debate earlier this month, Moores charged that “crime is out of control … it has to stop. And, quite frankly, my opponent in the race is part of the problem.”
Stansbury seemed to brush off Moores’ attack at the debate and didn’t directly reference the BREATHE ACT, which would make stark changes to the criminal justice system.
“To address Albuquerque’s crime problem, we have to invest in public safety,” Stansbury responded. “We need to be reforming policing in the city, and we need to be investing in the underlying causes of crime, like addiction and behavioral health.”
Stansbury’s spotlighting her record as a state representative and the coronavirus pandemic recovery fostered by Biden, highlighting her pledge to work with the president and his administration.