ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District special election will test whether warnings over a left-wing approach to policing and crime work without former President Donald Trump topping the ballot.
The June 1 race, for the seat vacated by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, is also an early test on the popularity of President Joe Biden.
And it comes at a time when every House seat matters — for both sides. Democrats hold the narrowest House majority since the 1930s, with 219 seats to 211 for Republicans, with five vacancies.
Republican Mark Moores, a state senator since 2013 and an owner of a medical testing business, faces Democrat Melanie Stansbury, an Obama administration alumnus and state representative since 2019.
Moores has focused his campaign in televised debates and in ads on Stansbury expressing support for the BREATHE Act, a Black Lives Matter-crafted “reimagining of public safety” federal legislation. The proposal would ban police from using Tasers, close federal prisons, and have 911 operators dispatch unarmed mental health professionals instead of police officers.
“This is a self-described policy wonk who has spent her entire adult life working on the Hill,” Moores, a large-statured former college football player, told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “For her to come out and say we need to pass the BREATHE Act, which is the most radical position proposal that I’ve seen, in a dangerous, high-crime city like Albuquerque … is downright scary, how radical she is.”
Stansbury’s campaign has since qualified her support for the proposal and refused to engage with his attacks on the debate stage. “If the final legislation includes sections that she cannot support because they are wrong for New Mexicans, then she’ll look to other solutions,” said her communications director, Jessie Damazyn.
If the message works, it could serve as a blueprint for the midterm elections races and for the 2021 Albuquerque mayoral race and 2022 New Mexico gubernatorial race, both offices that have Democrats up for reelection. “Success” in the largely Democratic district in this respect might not necessarily mean winning the race but simply exceeding expectations.
Moores’s message appealed to more than 30 volunteers at a Saturday morning canvassing event, many of whom said that they could not remember any of the last several Republican candidates for the seat. Jodi Yount, 51, said that she was inspired to get more involved in elections “because of the insanity that’s going on today with ‘defund the police,’” first hoping to volunteer in 2020 for Trump.
The former president’s name, though, is only mentioned by Moores when prompted, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, one of the most prominent Democrats nationally.
“Trump’s not running. Pelosi’s not running. Obama is not running,” Moores said. “This race is between Mark Moores and Melanie Stansbury.”
Voters in the district chose Biden over former Trump by 23 points in 2020, according to Daily Kos Elections.
Yet, national Democrats are not taking any chances with the seat Haaland held for a bit over two years. They are mounting an offense after being unexpectedly locked out of Texas’s 6th Congressional District special election earlier this month, which now has two Republicans heading to a runoff.
The Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have peppered donors with messages about the race. Big-name Democrats such as Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Adam Schiff of California sent messages about Stansbury to their lists, helping her bring in $1.3 million in contributions to nearly $400,000 for Moores as of May 12.
“I think they’re scared,” Moores said. The New Mexico Democratic Party central committee, which selected Stansbury as the nominee for the special election by a slim margin, ”is so progressive, so radical, that they picked someone who was just completely radical to run who doesn’t meet the history or the values of this district,” he said.
Another encouraging sign for Moores is his opponent went on the air early with an ad attacking him for opposing Biden’s American Rescue Plan and “lining his own pockets” by taking PPP loans for his medical business — a sign that she may have been more worried about Moores gaining momentum.
“We are taking nothing for granted, and we are working day and night to raise the resources needed,” Damazyn said in response to criticism of the national help.
Democratic voters say they are a little nervous, too. “There were some really unhappy surprises in the 2020 election. Democrats thought we were going to do much better than we did,” Wendy Wintermute, a nonprofit organization director, said at a Stansbury event.
But despite the bright spots, Moores faces a tough task. National Republican groups have not matched the investment of national Democrats in the race. Party registration in the district is 47% Democratic, 28% Republican, and 25% other. And a May 18-21 poll found Stansbury with 49% support to 33% for Moores.
Another complicating factor for Republican hopes of exceeding expectations is that two other candidates on the ballot: independent Aubrey Dunn and Libertarian Chris Manning.
Dunn has some name recognition in the state. He is the former state public lands commissioner who was elected as a Republican before switching to the Libertarian Party and became its 2018 Senate nominee but opted to go it alone for this special election race. His father, Aubrey Dunn Sr., was a longtime state senator.
Together, the two could get around 10% of the vote — the two clocked in at 9% combined in the recent poll — making it harder for Moores to get even within single digits of Stansbury.
Moores is outwardly optimistic, though. “In New Mexico, we have a history of flipping seats during special elections,” he said. “It’s going to be low voter turnout, so this is an old-fashioned, grassroots, get-your-voters-to-the-polls.”
Original Author: Emily Brooks