Stansbury’s victory, projected by the Associated Press little more than one hour after polls closed, will give Democrats 220 seats in the House to 211 for Republicans, offering a bit more breathing room to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ahead of an expected summer push on infrastructure spending. Two Republicans will face each other in the runoff for another vacant House seat, in Texas, on July 27. Two open seats in Ohio, split between the parties, will not be filled until November, and a safely Democratic seat in Florida will remain vacant until January 2022.
With nearly 80 percent of the vote counted, Stansbury led by more than 28 points.
“Everything is on the line this election,” Stansbury told supporters Thursday as she campaigned with second gentleman Doug Emhoff, a month after appearing with first lady Jill Biden. “The majority of our House is at stake, and the future of our country is at stake, and the future of our communities is at stake.”
Stansbury, 42, was the favorite to win the seat as soon as she secured the party’s nomination at an online convention in March. Ninety percent of the district’s vote comes from Albuquerque’s Bernalillo County, which has moved away from Republicans in the past decade. Joe Biden carried the district by 23 points last year, and Haaland ran a few points behind.
Moores, 51, worked to disrupt the Democrats’ advantage with a focus on rising crime in Albuquerque. In debates and ads, he labeled Stansbury a “radical” who would dismantle policing and federal prisons and who has worked only in government, while he owns a lab that handled coronavirus tests during the pandemic.
“Crime is out of control,” Moores said in an interview recently. “We try to recruit doctors to New Mexico in our personal business, and a lot of times when they look at the crime rate or look at the schools, they say, ‘I’ll go to Tucson instead.’ ”
Violent crime has increased across the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and homicides in Albuquerque have doubled in comparison with the first five months of 2020. Liberals and criminal-justice-reform activists have blamed economic distress and a surge in gun-buying for higher crime, while Republicans and police unions have argued that calls to “defund the police” have lowered morale, sped up retirements and left cities less safe.
Stansbury, a former White House fellow and congressional staffer, raised more than $1.3 million for a seat that her party has held without a serious challenge since 2008; Moores raised less than half as much. Stansbury flipped her suburban legislative district in the 2018 wave, when Democrats swept New Mexico’s elections, and emerged in the special nominating convention as a consensus choice after notable wins in Santa Fe, including legislation to modernize the state’s power grid.
“I’ve always tried to do my work in a bipartisan manner,” Stansbury said in an interview after a canvass launch. “That’s not only because I think it’s important for everyone to have buy-in into the process, but because I think it helps policy be more durable.”
Stansbury defeated a more liberal candidate to win the nomination but offered an agenda mostly in line with her party’s left, including Medicare-for-all, paid family leave and a $15-per-hour minimum wage. Moores, who lent his campaign $200,000, won his nomination with a pitch to make the seat competitive again. He quickly went negative against Stansbury, attacking her over the state’s Social Security tax, then pivoting to crime.
The Republican’s campaign saw an opening on April 20, after Stansbury appeared at a virtual forum hosted by the New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative. Moores did not attend the event, while Stansbury used it to tout her commitment to criminal justice reform, telling her audience that she would support not just the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act but also endorse the Breathe Act, a proposal from the Movement for Black Lives that would redirect federal law enforcement grants to social services.
“Melanie Stansbury supports the most dangerous legislation in America, as Albuquerque faces record numbers of homicides,” one of Moores’s TV ads warned. In a statement this month, Stansbury’s campaign clarified that she might not support Breathe Act provisions that are “wrong for New Mexicans,” if the proposal ever was brought to the House floor. On TV, she did what many swing-seat Democrats regret not doing in 2020, putting police and prosecutors on camera to emphasize her support for funding law enforcement.
Televised debates between Stansbury and Moores grew heated, with the Democrat warning that Moores would oppose the Biden administration’s economic agenda, while Moores accused her of attacking all small-business owners by making an issue out of his lab’s coronavirus rescue loan. At one debate, Moores pointed to the widower of a murder victim in the audience, demanding that Stansbury explain to him how she could consider reducing police funding.
Early and absentee voting was promising for Stansbury. After in-person early voting ended on Saturday, 93,563 ballots had been cast, 58 percent of them by registered Democrats and 30 percent by registered Republicans. It was a reversal of the pattern from the May 1 special primary in Texas, where Democrats, divided between several candidates, saw weak turnout that locked them out of the July runoff.
That result stoked national speculation that Democrats were struggling to excite their base with former president Donald Trump out of office, but the national GOP largely stayed away from New Mexico. Trump, who has endorsed Republican candidates this year in races where they have been favored, made no comment on the race, and the parties’ congressional committees, which made no investment in the Texas race, stayed out of this one, too.
Moores won the support of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, which also had opposed Haaland’s reelection last year, while Stansbury touted the support of Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), a political ally who once held the 1st District seat.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said a Florida House seat would remain open until January of 2021. It will be filled in January 2022. The article has been corrected.