Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Though less than 30% of registered voters in the 1st Congressional District cast a ballot, the result was resounding.
State Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat, earned 60% of the vote and cruised to victory over Republican state Sen. Mark Moores, who received 36%. Once Stansbury is sworn into the seat later this month, she’ll increase Democrats’ margin of power in the chamber – 220 seats to 211.
The race received national attention, in part because it’s one of few contests held between President Biden’s election in 2020 and next year’s midterm elections. Political pundits were looking at central New Mexico as a bellwether to test if Moores’ tough-on-crime campaign was making inroads in a predominately blue district.
Albuquerque, like several metro areas across the country, has seen an increase in serious crimes such as homicide and aggravated assault in the first half of 2021. Moores’ campaign, like other Albuquerque political races in recent years, focused on the crime problem.
Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff said if Stansbury had won by less than 10 percentage points, Republicans could have gained momentum by cutting into a Democratic stronghold.
“But that didn’t happen. What we saw was a Democratic district performing strongly for a Democratic candidate, so there’s no good news to be gleaned here for Republicans,” he said. “Republicans were hoping for a narrower margin to demonstrate that this was a precursor of what’s to come in the midterm elections. That did not happen.”
Steve Pearce, the chairman of the state Republican Party, said crime is a major issue to Albuquerque residents.
“Polling was very strong on that. Whether or not it was the perfect issue or not, that’s for people who do that professionally to decide,” he said. “But I thought that was one of the more significant differences between the two candidates.”
Another striking difference was campaign money.
Stansbury raised $1.3 million through May 12, while Moores raised $595,000 in the same time period, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Pearce said that discrepancy was a factor in the race. He also noted that prominent Democrats showered Stansbury with endorsements, and the spouses of the president and vice president helped Stansbury on the campaign trail.
“I think one of the biggest issues was that the Democratic Party poured in money and the Republicans, nationally, did not,” Pearce said. “You could tell the Democrats were concerned. They were paying very close attention to a race that normally would be considered a gimme. So I think we succeeded in causing concern on their side.”
New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District includes most of Bernalillo County, all of Torrance County and small sections of Sandoval, Santa Fe and Valencia counties. All told, 131,651 ballots were cast throughout the district, according to unofficial results.
That’s 28.7% of registered voters.
Though that is low compared with the 68.7% of registered voters who participated in the 2020 general election, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said turnout was high compared with other elections that don’t take place in a general or midterm election. A school board race, she said, often only gets about 6% voter turnout.
It wasn’t clear what percentage of voters participated in the 1998 special election, when voters in the same congressional district elected former Rep. Heather Wilson, who was the last Republican to hold the seat. A special election in the state’s 3rd Congressional District in 1997 saw 34.7% of voters cast a ballot.
There were 2,011 people who registered and voted on the same day in this year’s election. It was the first time New Mexico allowed same-day voter registration.
“We were really happy with that,” Toulouse Oliver said. “We always want to see more people vote.”
Sanderoff said a years-long trend in New Mexico was present in Tuesday’s special election: the divide between urban and rural communities.
Moores won three of the five counties in the district, the more rural Santa Fe, Torrance and Valencia counties. But Stansbury’s massive advantage in Bernalillo County – she earned 61% of the vote and Moores received 34% – was more than enough to carry her to victory.
The congressional district has about 217,000 registered Democrats and 132,000 Republicans.
A spokeswoman for Stansbury said she will be sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives later this month, at which time she will resign from her state House seat.
Her replacement in the state House district, which represents the Northeast Heights from around Juan Tabo and Lomas to the foothills neighborhoods near Bear Canyon, will be chosen by the Bernalillo County Commission.
The commission has four Democrats and one Republican. A Bernalillo County spokeswoman said officials will be announcing an application process soon.