Why a special election in New Mexico seems oddly important
Democrat Melanie Stansbury is heavily favored to win a special election Tuesday to take the United States House seat, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, previously held by Home Secretary Deb Haaland.
It’s no surprise: Haaland was re-elected with more than 16 percentage points last November, and President Joe Biden won 23 percentage points over Donald Trump.
So far, this election – which pits Stansbury, a state official with a scientific background, against Republican Senator Mark Moores – appears to be going the same way. The number of early votes has been high for Democrats, who have so far cast 58% of the vote in the race, according to the office of the New Mexico secretary of state.
Overall turnout in the district was low, according to the secretary of state’s office, and Democrats who watched the race said it was possible that less than a third of registered voters in the district would bother to to present oneself. So why did the party bother to send Second Mr. Doug Emhoff to the district for campaign events Thursday and Friday? And why are political agents on both sides of the aisle closely monitoring a sleepy race?
In many ways, the lack of interest in racing is the most telling thing. After four years of high-energy, high-stakes political fighting during Trump’s presidency – a time when congressional special elections in Georgia and Pennsylvania turned into nationally watched showdowns – the relatively low-key battle in New Brunswick Mexico could signal a slightly cooler era of political engagement.
And the location of the race, a pluralist Hispanic neighborhood centered around a high-crime city, also offers a renewed look at some of the Democratic coalition’s weaknesses exposed by the 2020 election.
There are a whole host of reasons not to overinterpret the results of special elections. (They’re called special elections for a reason.) And a low voter turnout special election the day after Memorial Day is far from a perfect benchmark. Yet here’s why Tuesday’s contest seems important.
Waning political enthusiasm
It is one of the most enduring trends in American politics: the party that controls the White House watches helplessly as its supporters lose interest in the elections, resulting in losses in the midterm elections.
A special election earlier this month in Texas demonstrated the pitfalls for Democrats: While the district looked attractive on paper – Trump won it by just 3 percentage points in November – it was also unlikely it exists after the redistribution, and the Democrats have failed to unite behind a single candidate. As a result, the Republicans took the top two places in the first round of voting, and the Democrats’ chances of victory vanished.
The Democratic Party seems determined to avoid repeating that mistake here. Several national figures and groups have endorsed Stansbury, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, gun control group Giffords and EMILY’s List. This week, Biden gave his support, and Emhoff followed Thursday and Friday with his first political trip as a second gentleman.
“This is the critical moment. Don’t look at the polls. Don’t look at anything. Act like we’re down. There is a sense of urgency, right? Emhoff said at a rally, according to the Associated Press.
Stansbury acknowledged that it was difficult to gain the attention of voters outside of the normal electoral cycle. She said her team had set up “the biggest field operation this congressional district has seen in over a decade.”
“It’s just hard to reach out to everyone and educate everyone about the election, what’s going on, who the candidates are,” she told HuffPost earlier this month, noting that campaigns only had about eight weeks to reach voters after the central committees of both parties. chose the nominees. “We don’t take anything for granted.”
Veteran Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg wrote in a mid-May memo that an investigation of battlefield states and districts had left him “surprised at how fully consolidated Donald Trump’s loyalist party is. at this early stage of his vote in 2022 and how committed he is ”.
But that energy was only sporadically turned into election action: While the GOP’s turnout was high in Texas, it clearly lagged behind Democratic turnout in New Mexico.
And while Democratic candidates in the 2017 special election raised record amounts of money online, Moores only raised $ 73,000 in donations under $ 200 as of the latest campaign finance reporting deadline. Stansbury has raised over $ 300,000 in small donations.
Fund the police
Moores’ campaign has largely focused on Stansbury’s initial support for the BREATHE Act, a law crafted by activists to cut federal support for police and prisons. In a Moores TV commercial, a narrator calls it “America’s most dangerous legislation” and says it amounts to supporting the defounding of the country’s police service.
“Murders, rapists and abusers of children at large,” says the narrator, describing the supposed impact of the law.
Attacks like this have at times left Stansbury on its heels in a town that had relatively high crime rates even before the pandemic caused a spike in violent shootings across the country. His campaign responded by noting his work to support funding for law enforcement in the state legislature.
“The Republican candidate is trying to reframe this race around public safety as a scare tactic,” Stansbury said, while acknowledging that public safety is a major issue in the district. “But I think it’s largely a political distraction from the big issues related to the economy, education, and investment in our community.”
A shock GOP victory in the district – or even a perceived underperformance from Stansbury – is likely to reignite intra-Democrat political wrangling over activists’ calls for police funding.
A test of the Hispanic vote
New Mexico’s top congressional district is 49.4 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to census data. Unlike many majority or pluralist Hispanic districts nationwide, he did not switch to Trump in 2020 from 2016. But national Democratic leaders are focused on improving Biden’s standing among Hispanics, and public polls suggest his approval rating among Hispanic voters has increased. since the start of his presidency.
Moores is Hispanic, but the Democratic state central committee chose Stansbury – an “Anglo” in New Mexico political lingo – over a number of Hispanic candidates. Stansbury has linked closely with Biden, fully embracing his agenda and highlighting Moores’ opposition to the Biden-backed coronavirus relief plan that Congress passed earlier this year.
While New Mexico may not be a key state to the president’s long-term political fortunes, Democrats would be happy to see Stansbury excel in the predominantly Hispanic ridings there.
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