Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Democrats continued their dozen-year winning streak in the 1st Congressional District, with state Rep. Melanie Stansbury prevailing in Tuesday’s special election.
Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff called the race for Stansbury after early returns showed she had built an insurmountable lead over state Sen. Mark Moores, an Albuquerque Republican. Stansbury had 60% of the vote, while Moores had 36%, according to early, unofficial results posted on the Secretary of State’s website late Tuesday.
Libertarian candidate Chris Manning had received 1% and Aubrey Dunn, an independent from Torrance County, earned 3%, according to the initial, unofficial results.
Stansbury, an Albuquerque native who works as a water and land-use consultant, celebrated the victory with supporters at Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, capping a two-month campaign that launched her into a seat that has been a major stepping-stone for New Mexico politicians.
In her victory speech late Tuesday, Stansbury described her vision for her upcoming term. She talked about rebuilding the economy to create more equity, investing in critical infrastructure and advocating for a $15 minimum wage and affordable housing.
“We have to protect our lands and waters and build a more sustainable future …” she said. “We must protect these lands and lift up our farmers and ranchers. Tackle global climate change — and invest in our clean energy future.”
The special election was called to fill the vacancy created when former Rep. Deb Haaland resigned to join President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.
After being tapped as the nominee by Democratic party officials this spring, Stansbury gained national attention in the short campaign.
Biden endorsed Stansbury late last month and second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, flew to Albuquerque last week to campaign for Stansbury. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also noted how crucial a Stansbury victory is for the Democratic Party.
The election will be one of the only competitive races between Biden’s election and next year’s midterms. Because of those dynamics, national political pundits were keeping an eye on Tuesday’s race, which was seen as a bellwether of sorts for the 2022 elections.
Moores, during his campaign, advocated for law enforcement as a way to turn around Albuquerque’s crime problem, which for years has been a focal point of Albuquerque political races. He also called for tighter border security and more support for the oil and gas industry.
Stansbury will be entering a deeply divided House, and Democrats currently hold a small margin of power in the chamber. Democrats prior to Stansbury’s victory controlled 219 seats, compared to 211 held by Republicans.
During her campaign, Stansbury aligned herself with the White House on matters such as addressing climate change and the president’s infrastructure plans. She also highlighted her work in the Legislature, touting her efforts to increase the number of students in the state who receive free lunches at school.
“I believe in our people and our capacity to bring meaningful change. Which is why I am so proud to stand with you tonight, shoulder-to-shoulder as we step up for the next chapter and get to work for New Mexico and for our nation,” Stansbury said in her remarks to supporters. “Our communities are proud and strong. We are full of grit, determination and heart. And, I know that together we can get the job done.”
Moores accused Stansbury of being “radical” and trying to “defund the police.” Stansbury fought back, saying she helped coordinate capital outlay spending among Albuquerque-area lawmakers, which increased the money for criminal justice initiatives in the city.
Stansbury’s first election victory came in 2018 when she flipped a previously Republican state House district in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. Prior to that race, Stansbury for eight years worked several behind-the-scenes policy roles in Washington, D.C., including a stint in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget during the Obama administration.
Now, she’ll step into a much more high-profile position.
New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District represents most of Bernalillo County, all of Torrance County and slivers of Sandoval, Santa Fe and Valencia counties. The last three people to hold the seat were Haaland, who is now secretary of the interior, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Sen. Martin Heinrich, all of whom are Democrats.
Prior to Heinrich, the seat had been controlled by Republicans for 40 years. The last GOP member to hold the seat was Heather Wilson, who went on to be U.S. Air Force Secretary in the Trump administration.
Voter turnout in the race was around 30%, according to unofficial results.
“Mark Moores had an uphill political battle to be competitive in this race,” Sanderoff said. “The Heights and West Side of Albuquerque have flipped from reliably Republican areas to Democratic-leaning areas.”
Moores spent a couple of hours with State Republican Party officials Tuesday evening before he watched the votes being announced privately with family, according to party officials.
“The issues are still going to be there, the crime rate is out of control, schools are failing us, and we don’t have economic opportunities for our children,” Moores said. “You need to be talking about local issues. I think often national issues suck the oxygen out of the room. You need to be talking about what is impacting the local community and that’s what we did in this campaign.”