Since the beginning of the year, we have successfully covered three special elections for the House of Representatives. In Louisiana’s 2nd and 5th districts, we correctly predicted victories by both Troy Carter and Julia Letlow. Just a few weeks later, we received record viewership statistics during our coverage of the first round of voting in Texas’s 6th district, where Republicans Susan Wright and Jake Ellzey locked out the Democrats, advancing to the second round (read more here). Going forward our coverage schedule remains crowded, with a runoff in Texas’s 6th congressional district and three subsequent special elections in Ohio and Florida on the calendar.
Currently, however, our attention is fixed on the special election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, which could prove to be more competitive than the district’s partisanship would have one believe.
Background – The Candidates
While we have touched on both candidates in our previous House special election articles, we have not discussed either individual in detail. Since candidate quality plays a significant role in electoral politics, we consider it prescient to present the backgrounds of both nominees. As mentioned in the last special election writeup, both candidates were chosen by their respective party central committees, avoiding the need for an open primary.
Mark Moores (R)
The Republican nominee is 21st district State Senator Mark Moores, a legislator since 2013. According to Axios, Moores was born and raised in the suburbs of Washington DC. Despite his birthplace, he has a strong New Mexico heritage on his mother’s side of the family. After moving to the Land of Enchantment full time, he received two degrees from the University of New Mexico. He entered politics shortly after, working for former Lieutenant Governor Walter Bradley.
In 2012 he took the next step, declaring his bid for the newly-drawn, Democratic-held 21st Senate district. He defeated fellow Republicans Robert Doughty III and Nancy Cooper in the June primary, securing the nomination. That fall, he soundly beat incumbent Democrat Lisa Curtis, winning a healthy 56.6% of the vote; he was reelected in 2016 and 2020.
With then-Democratic Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s resignation to take up the head role in the Department of the Interior, Moores decided to throw his hat into the Congressional ring. Being the most credible candidate in the seven person field, Moores was able to win the Republican convention easily – beating out his nearest competitor Eddy Aragon by 12%. Since his convention success, Moores has received endorsements from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Rifle Association, the National Right to Life Committee, and the Republican Party of New Mexico. As the strongest Republican nominee for this seat in recent years, many Republicans are hopeful that a competitive race could shift from dream to reality.
Melanie Stansbury (D)
The Democratic candidate is 28th district State Representative Melanie Stansbury. A New Mexico native raised in Albuquerque, Stansbury has been in the legislature since 2019. Studying at Saint Mary’s College of California and Cornell University, Stansbury has received degrees across multiple fields of science. After her formative educational years, she worked as an aide to Washington Senator Maria Cantwell.
Like Moores, Stansbury also got her legislative start by defeating an incumbent. During the 2018 blue wave, she successfully unseated incumbent Republican Representative Jimmie Hall in the 28th district; she was reelected in 2020. Unlike her colleague from the state’s other legislative chamber, Stansbury did not have an easy path to victory at the Democratic convention.
After the first round of voting Stansbury finished in a distant second, taking 21.6% of the vote compared to 37.2% won by frontrunner State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. Stansbury fared better in the runoff round, securing a majority of the votes that had previously been cast for the six other losing Democratic candidates. Ultimately, she defeated Lopez 103-97 (51.2-48.3%) in the final vote. While some pundits are expecting a somewhat competitive race in this Likely Democratic district, President Biden still carried it by 23 points last year. Thus, by virtue of her party identification alone, Stansbury enters the final weeks of the campaign cycle as a favorite.
Background – The District
As previously mentioned, the 1st district is Democratic. President Biden carried it by 23 points last year and it hasn’t been represented by a Republican in over a decade; Heather Wilson was the last Republican ton hold it. Despite these odds, it would not surprise our team if the race turns out to be competitive. The Republican floor usually hovers around 40% here and can fluctuate depending on unpredictable off-year special election dynamics like low turnout and uneven levels of voter enthusiasm. With dedicated effort from the Moores campaign, the race here could certainly outrun the 41% standard they set in their 2020 challenge to Deb Haaland.
Serving the majority of Albuquerque, the 1st is centered around Democratic Bernalillo County. Heavily urban and racially diverse, the seat is plurality white with a significant Hispanic presence in the city of Albuquerque. Outside Bernalillo, the most populace county in the district, the 1st also includes Democratic portions of northern Sandoval County along with the more sparsely-populated Republican counties of Valencia, Torrance, and Santa Fe.
For a Republican to theoretically win, or come close to winning, the 1st, he or she would need to garner at or above 45% of the vote in Bernalillo County, slightly more than the current average of around 40%. On Election Night we will be paying special attention to Senator Moores’s performance in Bernalillo, as it will likely serve as an early indication of how competitive the contest as a whole will be.
Our Rating and Expectation
To keep things short, we expect a race that will be competitive to some degree. Both candidates are well-qualified, credible options to succeed Haaland in what has become a Democratic stronghold. While the Democrats do, in our eyes, have a significant advantage here, do not discount any potential curveballs that House special elections of the past have thrown our way. For Mark Moores, even a ten point loss would be considered an impressive performance given the seat’s partisan lean.
As of this writing, we consider the 1st Likely Democratic. Nonetheless, given the recent surprise in the first round of voting in Texas-6, we advise our readers to keep an attentive eye on the fascinating new Congressional battle brewing in the heart of the American west.
Additionally, because there has been no polling in this race, we’ve worked with RRH Elections to successfully crowdfund a poll in the district. RRH has a good record in polling and experience in crowdfunding, so we’re happy to partner with them on this. If this race does turn out to be competitive – or not – it could have major ramifications for 2022.