SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A special congressional election is underway for an Albuquerque-based seat dominated by Democrats since 2009, with the start of early absentee voting on Tuesday coinciding with the campaign’s first scheduled television debate.
Four candidates are vying with names on the ballot for the First Congressional District post to succeed Deb Haaland after her departure from Congress to lead the Department of the Interior. Election Day is June 1.
Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat, and Republican state Sen. Mark Moores are at the forefront of the contest with major party backing, pursued by a Libertarian contender and an experienced political independent. Two write-in candidates are registered.
Stansbury is a public policy consultant for environmental and philanthropic groups and ousted an incumbent Republican from the Statehouse in 2018 amid a wave of successful campaigns by progressive New Mexico female legislative candidates.
Moores is the socially conservative co-owner of a medical diagnostics company and former football lineman for the University of New Mexico. He’s been a vocal critic of the state’s aggressive pandemic restrictions while accepting federal relief for his business.
Republican Party leaders have said they sense a rare opportunity to flip the district in a possible low-turnout balloting — and erode the Democratic Party’s 218-212 majority in Congress.
There are five current vacancies in Congress. Republicans have earned both spots in a Texas runoff election to replace former U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, who died after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
In New Mexico’s First Congressional District, Democrats account for a dominant 47% of registered voters, versus 28% for Republicans.
The district encompasses the Albuquerque metro area, rural Torrance County and outlying areas that overlap Indigenous communities including Sandia Pueblo. In and around Albuquerque, President Trump won just 37% of the vote in 2020.
Stansbury and Moores offer stark contrasts on issues ranging from abortion to the environment, energy policy, and approaches to policing and racial injustice.
Stansbury this year supported and Moores voted against Democrat-backed reforms to legalize recreational marijuana and medical aid in dying, to overturn the state’s dormant ban on most abortion procedures and to strip police agencies of immunity from prosecution in state court for civil rights violations by officers.
Moores has staked his campaign on advocacy for continued oil permitting on federal land and pledges of support for robust federal funding of local police forces and border security, while highlighting Latino family ties dating back to the region’s Spanish colonial period.
Stansbury invokes her Albuquerque upbringing within a low-income family. She has highlighted her advocacy for modernizing the electrical grid to trim dependence on fossil fuels, support for universal health care and agreement with proposals to rein in gun violence with a ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Moores was previously employed by former Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Schiff and Stansbury worked in Washington for the White House Office of Management and Budget under President Barack Obama and for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Also running for Haaland’s former congressional seat is political independent Aubrey Dunn Jr., who won statewide election in 2014 as land commissioner under the GOP banner.
Christopher Manning is the Libertarian Party candidate for a state where the former governor and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson won about 9% of the vote in 2016.
Laura Olivas and Robert Ornelas have been certified as write-in candidates. Tuesday’s televised debate on KOB 4 includes only the three party-nominated candidates.
For the first time, same-day voter registration will be available all the way through Election Day on June 1.