Democrat cruises to victory in New Mexico election despite GOP soft-on-crime attacks

Democrat Melanie Stansbury easily won a special election for the U.S. House of Representatives in New Mexico Tuesday night after her Republican opponent attempted to turn the race into a referendum on criminal justice.

Stansbury was a heavy favorite in the Albuquerque-area First Congressional District, but Democrats, nervous about a potential early backlash to President Biden’s agenda and wary of the effectiveness of attacks tied to law and order, kept a close eye on the margins: Biden had won the district by 23 points, and Rep. Deb Haaland, who vacated the seat to become his secretary of the interior, won it by 16 in November.

Stansbury, a 42-year-old state legislator, ended up defeating Republican Mark Moores by 25 points, the win buffering the Democrats’ slim House majority.

Rep. Melanie Stansbury at a news conference about erasing a backlog in untested rape evidence kits in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April.  (Susan Montoya Bryan/AP)
Melanie Stansbury at a news conference in April. (Susan Montoya Bryan/AP)

“Leaders all across the country have been watching this race because of the leadership of Secretary Haaland, because of the importance to this race for delivering for President Biden’s agenda and because of the importance of this race for delivering for our communities,” Stansbury said during her victory speech.

Moores had focused his campaign almost entirely on crime, pointing to a spike in murders in Albuquerque and claiming that Stansbury wanted to “defund” the police. He pointed to her support of the Breathe Act, a sweeping criminal reform bill supported by Black Lives Matter activists that would reappropriate police funding to community programs. Moores aired an ad calling it “the most dangerous legislation in America” that would allow “murderers, rapists and child molesters” to walk free, the ominous narration underscored by sounds of gunshots, sirens and screams.

“The Republican standard operating procedure is to generate fear and discord,” New Mexico state Democratic chair Jessica Velasquez said in May as the attacks ramped up. “Melanie has a beautiful approach to criminal justice.”

Stansbury hit back with an ad featuring a retired police officer outlining her record in aiding local police. The crime issue hung over the race until the very end, with a Tuesday morning New York Times headline reading “Why a New Mexico House Race Is a Crucial Test of the G.O.P. Focus on Crime.”

During the campaign, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff both visited the state as Democrats attempted to avoid what would have been a calamitous loss. In the modern era, the president’s political party usually loses seats in midterm elections, and Democrats could face an uphill battle next year with redistricting changing the landscape in the House and a razor-thin 50-50 split in the Senate. Stansbury was a vocal supporter of Biden’s agenda, touting his infrastructure plan and climate initiatives. She will be joining the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which endorsed her in the race.

Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., head of the House Democrats’ campaign operation, joined Stansbury on Tuesday and touted the victory in a statement.

“New Mexico voters chose a leader with the grit and determination to deliver results and rejected the tired Republican tactics of lies and fear mongering,” Maloney said. “While Mark Moores and the GOP spent this special election doing their best Trump impression, Melanie focused on building our country back better, getting folks back to work, and creating an economy for all New Mexicans.”

While polling shows concerns over violent crime growing, Democrats pushing reform have yet to take a hit at the ballot box in off-cycle contests. Last month, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a leader of the progressive prosecutor movement, had an easy win in the city’s Democratic primary. At the other end of the Keystone State, progressive challenger Ed Gainey defeated Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto after criticizing the incumbent for his handling of police during last summer’s protests.


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