Democrat Melanie Stansbury won overwhelmingly in a special election for a suburban House seat in New Mexico on Tuesday, tallying 60 percent of the vote en route to a 25-point win over Republican state Sen. Mark Moores. That a Democrat won the race to fill the seat vacated by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is hardly surprising; the district swung to the left in 2008 and has turned out increasingly uncompetitive races over the past decade, including in 2020 where President Joe Biden carried the district by 23 points and Haaland won by 17 points. The timing of the race, however, gave the contest special importance as a potential barometer of support for the Biden agenda in a suburban district in a competitive presidential state far from Washington. National onlookers saw the margin of victory, rather than victory itself, as a key indicator of how the Democratic president’s policies were playing in the field.
The 25-point walloping appears to show that Democratic support for Biden is holding, as the party tries to hold onto its slim advantage in the House while simultaneously fighting against the American electorate’s habit of returning the opposition party to power in the House in the cycle after a newly elected president takes office. Stansbury’s opponent ran almost entirely on the rise in crime in the Albuquerque-based district in an effort to make the race a referendum on crime, a line of attack that is surely going to be front and center of the Republican election effort in 2022 amid elevated national crime rates on the tail of the pandemic.
Tuesday’s margin will calm Democratic nerves on the popularity of its agenda and the party’s vulnerability to crime-related campaign tactics, but the win does come with a number of caveats that make universal lessons a bit harder to parse. Democrats took far more interest and invested far more resources in the race as national Republicans largely stayed on the sidelines. Stansbury raised three times more money, allowing her to blanket the local airwaves, while receiving a wave of visits from high-profile Democrats to maintain enthusiasm.