Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Over the course of his life, Aubrey Dunn has changed political affiliations the way some switch out cars.
Dunn has been a registered Democrat, Republican and Libertarian, and is now running as an independent for a vacant Albuquerque-area congressional seat.
The former state land commissioner, whose father and grandfather were both state lawmakers, has expressed disenchantment with the two-party system and says he feels invigorated without a party affiliation.
“You can speak pretty freely as an independent,” Dunn told the Journal.
Although few independent candidates have ever been elected to the U.S. Congress, there are some exceptions, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who was first elected to the U.S. House as an independent in 1990.
And Dunn, a rancher and retired banker, said the unique circumstances surrounding the special election to fill New Mexico’s open 1st Congressional District seat could increase the chances of a political upset in the Democratic-leaning district.
“I don’t think anybody has any idea what’s going to happen,” he said in an interview.
Dunn was a Republican when he was elected New Mexico’s state land commissioner in 2014 but switched his party affiliation to Libertarian before leaving office when his term expired in 2018.
That came after conflicts with GOP legislators over his attempts to curb the use of underground water for oil and natural gas drilling operations.
Previously, he said he had left the Democratic Party after former Gov. Bruce King narrowly won a bitter 1994 primary election but was then defeated in that year’s general election.
Dunn did not seek reelection as land commissioner in 2018. He considered running for an open U.S. Senate seat that year but withdrew from the race to make room for former Gov. Gary Johnson, a fellow Republican-turned-Libertarian.
During this year’s race, some pundits have suggested that Dunn could peel away votes from Republican nominee Mark Moores, a state senator from Albuquerque.
But Dunn rejects the “spoiler” label, suggesting he might have better odds than Moores to win the race.
“I think there’s some conservative Democrats who won’t vote for a Republican but might vote for an independent,” Dunn said.
Dunn, who owns a cattle ranch near Corona, said he was drawn to this year’s special election in part because its expedited timeline did not require a lengthy campaign cycle.
He has indicated support for some Democratic-backed policies, such as eliminating the defense of “qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers accused of criminal wrongdoing.
But Dunn is also anti-abortion and opposes a federal ban on semi-automatic firearms, according to his responses to a Journal questionnaire.
Despite being outraised by both Moores and Democrat Melanie Stansbury, Dunn said, his elevated name recognition as a former holder of statewide office could offset the financial disadvantage.
And he has reported giving his congressional campaign a $65,000 loan, which has been used in part to air a television ad featuring Dunn stepping in cow manure and bemoaning the “political BS” in Washington, D.C.
Whether that message resonates in the largely urban congressional district is unclear, but Dunn is clearly relishing a candidacy free of party loyalties.
“I think we have a really good shot as an independent in a strange time,” Dunn said.