Melanie Stansbury’s victory Tuesday night in New Mexico’s First Congressional District is meaningless.
For the state, a deep blue district remains blue.
For the Democratic Party, it holds onto its nine-seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives (220 to 211).
And for Republicans…well, New Mexico Republicans don’t seem to have any idea what they ought to be doing, and it showed.
The Democratic state representative beat out Republican state senator Mark Moores 60% to 36% to win CD1, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Unfortunately for those wanting to read the tea leaves about the race, the data shows nothing meaningful whatsoever.
In 2020, Deb Haaland won this seat with 58.19% of the vote, compared to Stansbury’s 60.26%. Democrats have held CD1 since 2009, with an average of 58.22% of the vote.
Stansbury grabbed just over 79,000 votes, which is impressive compared to Moores’ 47,000 but dismal compared to Haaland’s 189,000 in 2020, or even now Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s 181,088 in 2016. In fact, no candidate has won the seat with so few votes since Republican Heather Wilson filled the vacancy in a special election in 1988, with 54,853 votes.
But this low turnout (29%) is to be expected. In a Special Election held the day after the Memorial Day weekend, Stansbury’s slight outperformance of the average share of the vote isn’t surprising. She was running against essentially three Republicans: an unknown state rep with no local victories outside of football, a Libertarian who doesn’t live in the district, and a Republican-turned-Libertarian-turned-Independent whose campaign strategy was to say “bullshit” and decry partisanship.
Neither party had a great night. Based on May 2021 registered voter data, Stansbury and Moores managed to turn out only about 36% of their party’s voters.
The disappointment for Republicans hoping to flip this district is deserved. The state GOP went to Texas two weeks before the election rather than bringing some firepower to Albuquerque to get out the vote, Moores lacked the funding of Stansbury’s team and it showed, and there was no message to convince Republicans that Moores was the guy who could beat the odds.
But the elephant in the room is still Trump.
Democratic partisans rejoicing over the victory on KANW radio (89.1 FM) Tuesday night chalked this up to party division. Half of Republicans are Trumpers, and the other half are moderates, and for the GOP to win in New Mexico in the future they’re going to have to dump Trump.
Whether or not this is true is yet to be seen. It was under Trump that a Republican won back District 2 and Republicans flipped 14 House seats, almost taking back the majority. It is pure speculation at this point, but the brand of Conservatism that Trump represented — closed borders, America first, energy independence, a strong defense — is popular.
It may be true that New Mexico Republicans are more moderate than Trump Republicans nationally, but that would not explain Moores’ poor performance, as he was no MAGAn.
It’s just as likely that “dump Trump” is just a Democratic tactic to shame Republicans into being more moderate out of fear for what 2022 might bring.
What we do know is that it’s not just District 1 that’s solid blue. New Mexico is one of 15 Democrat states with a trifecta state government, meaning it holds the governor’s office, a majority in the state house, and a majority in the state senate. Both U.S. senators in New Mexico are Democrats. Two of three U.S. House seats are blue (Rep. Yvette Herrell flipped district 2 in November 2020). Albuquerque’s mayor is a Democrat, as are six of nine city council members. And all five state supreme court justices are Democrats.
That’s a lot for Democrats to be proud of. Unfortunately, it’s under this blue umbrella that the state perpetually ranks last in the nation. With Stansbury heading to Washington, New Mexico just got more of the same.