June 2, 2021 — The latest in the series of special elections to fill US House vacancies was held yesterday, and the race has an obvious favorite.
On the ballot: state Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-Albuquerque); state Sen. Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque); ex-Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, a former Republican who is running as an Independent; and Libertarian Party nominee Chris Manning.
The major parties nominated their candidates in special convention soon after incumbent Rep. Deb Haaland (D-Albuquerque) resigned to accept her appointment as Interior Secretary in President Biden’s cabinet.
Rep. Stansbury prevailed in a close multi-candidate Democratic convention, ultimately defeating state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D-Albuquerque) in a final round of delegate voting. Many believed winning the Democratic convention was tantamount to claiming the special election. Sen. Moores was an easy winner on the Republican side.
All indications pointed to a Stansbury victory, which is what played out last evening. The only recent publicly released poll before yesterday’s election, one that RRH Elections conducted (May 18-21; 555 likely NM-1 voters, interactive voice response system), found the Democratic nominee holding a 49-33 percent lead over Moores.
Secondly, the district has moved sharply to the left over the past decade, as the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections suggest. In the ’16 campaign, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump here, 52-35 percent. This past November, the Biden margin over ex-President Trump soared to 60-37 percent. The last Republican to represent the 1st District was former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-Albuquerque) who left the House in 2008 to run unsuccessfully for US Senate.
Third, the presence of two right-of-center minor candidates in Dunn and Manning make it even more improbable for Republicans to score a tight upset win because any votes these candidates receive are likely drawn from the Republican nominee.
Fourth, campaign spending heavily favors the Democrats in this special election contest. The campaign has attracted little in the way of outside involvement, so Rep. Stansbury’s $1.2 million in funds raised through the May 12 pre-primary reporting period is roughly double Sen. Moores’ $595,000, of which $200,000 came in the form of a candidate’s loan.
An Open Secrets.org article from Alyce McFadden on May 27 describes this race as the Democrats’ “first big test.” Such is not the case. Winning a safe Democratic seat with the ballot set-up and campaign spending favoring the majority party is hardly a difficult test.
The more indicative trial to-date, if there is one to forecast a coming national trend, occurred in the TX-6 election on May 1 when even some Republican strategists believed Democratic candidate Jana Lynne Sanchez had a chance to finish first among the 23-person candidate field, yet she failed to even qualify for the runoff. The result yielded a double Republican runoff in a district that has become much more competitive in recent elections.
Election Day voting in New Mexico should be light since estimates suggest more than 70 percent of the number of individuals projected to comprise the expected participating universe have already cast their ballots through the early voting process. For this election, the early voting period began on May 4 and continued through May 29.
New Mexico is one of 17 states that allow ballots received prior to election day to be processed. In this case, state officials could begin actively organizing the ballots as much as two weeks before election day once more than 10,000 such votes had been received. They cannot, however, begin counting until the polls officially close tonight at 7 pm MDT.
The 1st District is anchored in the city of Albuquerque and encompasses over 95 percent of Bernalillo County, the state’s largest population center. It also includes Torrance County and parts of Sandoval, Valencia, and Santa Fe Counties. The NM-1 population divides as 49:41 percent, Hispanic to non-Hispanic white, while blacks and Asians account for less than three percent each. The district ranks 321st of the 435 US House seats on the per capita income scale, approximately $8,000 below the national average.