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Democrat Melanie Stansbury Wins Key Congressional Special Election

Democrats Continue to Show High Post-Biden Voter Enthusiasm—Congratulations New Mexico Congresswoman-Elect Melanie Stansbury! June 3, 2021


“Conventional” pundit wisdom has it that during Democrat Joe Biden’s presidency, Democrats were supposed to be complacent and lack enthusiasm. GOP voters, however, would flood the to the polls and defeat them. In a 5/18/2021 special election to fill a PA State Senate seat in the swingy northeast Scranton area, Democrat Marty Flynn clobbered his GOP opponent by a 13.5% margin. This margin exceeded Biden’s 9% 11/2020 margin in that same state senate district (ballotpedia.org). Democrat Flynn, therefore, turned “conventional” wisdom upside down. Political analysts remained unimpressed. After all, this race was a state legislative one that included Biden’s boyhood town. The key test would be what would happen when there was a vacancy to fill a congressional seat. Pundit Harry Enten stated that a congressional race would be “one of our first insights into the political environment, a little more than four months into Biden’s administration.” Enten added, “federal special elections, as a group, usually give us a fairly good idea how midterms are going to go (Enten, cnn.com, 5/31/21).” As Enten noted, Democrats barely won the House in 11/2020. They took the national House popular vote by just 3 points and ended up with a small 5-seat majority. Any move toward the GOP in the national environment is likely to result in “Team Red” recapturing the House (See Enten, cnn.com). That is why the 6/01/2021 New Mexico 1st Congressional District (CD) special congressional election was on every political activist’s radar.


The 6/01/2021 special election in the NM 1st CD was held to replace Democrat Debra Haaland who is now Biden’s Secretary of the Interior. The 1st CD is heavily Democratic. It has not elected a GOP Congressmember since 2006 (khon2.com, Lee) . The 1st CD takes in ¾ of Albuquerque, and most of Bernalillo County where that major city is located. Ninety percent of the 1st’s vote comes from Bernalillo County. The 1st CD includes parts of Sandoval, Santa Fe, and Valencia Counties. Hispanics constitute 42.6% of this CD, whites, 47.4%, and Native Americans 3.5% . The NM 1st has a 2021 Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+9 (See Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac, newmexico.org/places-to-go). This district contains Sandia National Laboratories, Kirtland Air Force Base, and the University of New Mexico. Scientists and engineers have poured into this area since the 1930’s, and the 1st is currently a magnet for biotechnology and biomedical discoveries (Cohen & Cook 2020). In 2016, Hillary trounced Donald by 16 points here and Biden won by 23 in 2020. In her re-election to a second term before she went to the Interior Department, Haaland won the 1st by 16 percentage points (Enten, cnn.com). Enten stated that looking at the 2016 and 2020 presidential election results and giving more weight to the most recent 2020 contest, the NM 1st is about 18 more points Democratic than the nation as a whole. Enten prognosticated that for a Democrat to look strong in this district, he/she would have to win by approximately 18 points. To win by less or have a very close race against a GOPer in the 1st would mean that the national environment had shifted toward the GOP since Biden’s 11/2020 win (Enten, cnn.com, 5/31/21). Democrats hoped to have their candidate, Melanie Stansbury, come close to the 18- point Democratic baseline to show “Team Blue” enthusiasm. Melanie Stansbury did even better. She clobbered her GOP opponent Mark Moores, by 24.6 points, 60.3-35.7 (nytimes.com, 6/02/21). Stansbury did better than Haaland in her 2020 re-election bid and also beat Biden’s victory margin (cnn.com, Enten).


Democrats made sure not to take this race “for granted.” They wanted to show enthusiasm and make sure that they turned out their base. Stansbury was flooded with money and volunteers. Democrats pushed for their voters to vote early. Fifteen percent of the voters cast early ballots and more than twice as many registered Democrats cast early ballots than did GOPers (nytimes.com, Martin, 6/01/21, Albuquerque Journal). First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff appeared with Stansbury at campaign stops. Emhoff pushed for more women in government and business and for men to “step up and support them (cnn.com, Bradner, 6/01/21).” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said it all. She noted that, “This race is the highest priority for us. Any victory is good, but we want a nice, decisive victory.” A surprise loss or a close race in the NM 1st would have made many Democrats think about retiring for fear that they would end up in the congressional minority (nytimes.com, Martin, 6/01/21). The key issue GOPer Moores ran on was the old “Team Red” chestnut, “Democrat Stansbury is soft on crime.” Moores spotlighted the rising murder rate in Albuquerque. He accused Stansbury of supporting a little-known proposal in Congress, going nowhere, that would cut funding for local police departments. The idea of cutting police funding in any way or the cry from some leftists to “defund the police” helped defeat many Democrats in 2020. It almost cost Democrats control of the House while Biden was handily winning (See “Divided We Stand,” Busch & Pitney, 2021). Stansbury, unlike many defeated 2020 House Democrats, countered Moores’ “soft on the police” attack. Stansbury ran an ad that featured a retired sheriff’s deputy and trumpeted her work in the state legislature bringing state dollars for law enforcement back to Albuquerque (Martin, nytimes.com, 6/01/21). Let’s look at both Stansbury and Moores.


Farmington, NM native Melanie Ann Stansbury (42) grew up in Albuquerque. She received a 2002 Bachelor’s in human ecology and natural science from CA’s St. Mary’s College. In 2007, Cornell University gave her a Master’s of Science in development sociology with a minor in American Indian studies (melaniefornm.com, stmarys-ca.edu/for-alumni, abqjournal.com-house-district-28). Stansbury began her career as an instructor at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. She was a consultant at Sandia National Laboratories. She worked in Washington D.C. for eight years. In D.C., Stansbury had several policy roles. These included a stint as a program examiner in the Office of Management and Budget under Obama. She also worked on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee of Energy and Natural Resources and as an aide to Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA (rollcall.com, Akin, 3/31/21, abqjournal.com, Boetel, 6/01/21).


In 2018, Stansbury won her first election. She flipped to the “Blue” column a previously GOP state House district in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights (abqjournal.com, Boetel, 6/01/21). That seat had been represented by a GOP incumbent for seven terms (ballotpedia.org, abqjournal.com, 10/16/18). She represented that district, the NM 28th House District (HD), since 1/2019. In the NM House, Stansbury introduced legislation to improve the state’s conservation and water resource management and was vice-chair of the Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Committee (ballotpedia.org). She also pushed in that chamber to increase the number of NM students who receive free lunch (abqjournal.com, Boetel). During her campaign for the U.S. House, Stansbury aligned herself with the Biden White House programs, especially on addressing climate change and infrastructure plans (Boetel, 6/01/21). Stansbury emphasized her scientific background to promote herself as a champion of NM’s land and water resources (npr.com, Wise, 6/01/21).

Stansbury’s GOP opponent Mark David Moores (51) was born in Bethesda, MD, a D.C. suburb. However, he has deep NM roots. His mother’s side is Latino. She comes from Espanola, NM (Axios, Contreras, R.) Moores’ Hispanic ties date back to the region’s Spanish colonial era. In a heavily Hispanic state, Moores invoked these ties (khon2.com, Lee). Even while living in the D.C. suburbs, Moores spent summers and holidays in northern NM. He moved to NM for college and was awarded an athletic scholarship to the University of New Mexico to play football for that school’s team, the Lobos. He received a Bachelors in political science and later an MBA from the Anderson School of Management (santafenewmexican.com, Simonich, M., Martin, nytimes.com). Moores was chief-of-staff to former GOP Lt. Gov. Walter Dwight Bradley and a field representative to former GOP Cong. Steven Schiff. In 2012, Moores won a race for the 21st NM State Senate District (SD) and was re-elected in 2016. He also runs a medical diagnostic testing business (Martin, nytimes.com, 6/01/21, abqjournal.com). Although Moores’ chief emphasis in this special election campaign was attacking Stansbury for being “anti-police/soft on crime,” he also emphasized his support for lifting environmental regulations aimed at drilling for oil and gas, which Stansbury and many environmentally concerned New Mexicans oppose (See npr.com, Wise, 6/01/21).


Yes, Democrats showed that in the Biden era they don’t lack enthusiasm and can get out the vote. Losing this race or making it a close battle would have been disastrous for “Team Blue.” However, one special election, in 6/2021 still does not in any way predict what will happen in 11/2022, political eons away. Many events helpful or harmful to Biden can occur between now and then. Yes, the “soft on crime/anti-police” GOP attack failed in a very strong/progressive Democratic district (nytimes.com, Martin, J., 6/01/21, 10:07 p.m., ET). However, midterms and control of the House are won in swing districts where the “defund the police” attack can be very effective, along with bogus cries of “socialism.” Democrats must not use this “defund” slogan or pass bills that take such action. They must also fight back strongly against such GOP attacks everywhere. Most importantly, the GOPers did not really fund Moores’ special election effort in this progressive district. They did not want to go out of their way wasting money to financially prop him up when none of his campaign attacks gained any traction. National GOP groups sent Moores just $7,000. GOP-leaning groups did not get involved. National Democrats showered Stansbury with more than $100,000 and there were many financial grass roots efforts to pour money into Stansbury’s coffers. As a result, Stansbury, easily outspent Moores in the final weeks of the race (See Martin, nytimes.com, 6/01/21). During the last reporting period from 4/01-5/12/2021, Stansbury raised nearly $1.2 million to Moores’ just $344,000. When all the GOP needs are 5 seats to flip the House in 11/2022, bet on their national organizations and their sympathizers like Koch Industries to fund many GOP incumbents and go heavily after numerous Democratic incumbents and challengers. To think otherwise would be extremely naïve. For now, we can still savor this moment. Stansbury’s win means Democrats will restore one more vote to their slim House majority. Speaker Pelosi will now have a 220-211 advantage with four more vacancies to be filled in future elections (Singer, dailykos.com/stories, 6/02/21). Again, in every special election, and in midterm Campaign 2022, Democrats turning out in droves plus will be the absolute key to keeping President Biden’s agenda going forward and protecting our democracy.