ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A special congressional election in New Mexico is testing political enthusiasm among Democrats in an increasingly progressive district last won by a Republican in 2006, as voters prepared Tuesday for a final day of balloting.
The winner of the four-way race for the 1st Congressional District will fill a seat left vacant by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as she joined the Biden Cabinet.
Republican state Sen. Mark Moores’ campaign to flip a seat held by Democrats since 2009 has highlighted concerns about crime in Albuquerque and has painted his Democratic opponent as a progressive with a radical agenda to defund traditional police agencies.
Democratic state Rep. Melanie Stansbury has aligned her campaign closely with initiatives from the White House on pandemic relief, infrastructure spending and interventions to slow climate change.
Responding to Moores, Stansbury says she’s corralled tax dollars for police initiatives as a legislator, but also believes policing reforms are needed to address systematic racism in the U.S..
Registered Democrats led early in-person voting that ended Saturday as well as absentee balloting — casting roughly six out of 10 ballots prior to Election Day.
Far fewer voters were likely to participate overall than in 2020, a record-setting year for voting in the 1st District.
Encompassing Albuquerque, rural Torrance County and other outlying areas, the district’s voters heavily favored Democratic candidates in recent years, shunning President Donald Trump with a gap of 23 percentage points in 2020 and reelecting Haaland with a margin of 16 percentage points as voter participation reached an all-time high.
Republicans still hope to prevail and erode the 219-211 Democratic majority in Congress ahead of midterm elections in 2022.
Two additional candidates are vying for votes in a state with strong currents of libertarian politics.
Independent contender Aubrey Dunn Jr., a former Republican elected to statewide office as land commissioner without seeking reelection in 2018, has cast himself as a staunch defender of gun rights and an experienced steward of public lands. Libertarian nominee Chris Manning, who lives far outside the 1st District in Farmington, is campaigning on an unorthodox plan to reduce health care costs by eliminating employer-based coverage and insurance requirements.
Both major-party candidates are native New Mexico residents who claim working class roots.
Moores frequently invokes Latino family ties that date back to the region’s Spanish colonial era, in a state where Hispanic pride is an enduring staple of politics.
The seat has consistently been a stepping stone to higher office for Republican and Democratic politicians, including now-deceased Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., former U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Lee reported from Santa Fe, New Mexico.