US Democrats press to avoid upset in New Mexico special election

Police reform, immigration are top issues in hard-fought campaign where neither Democrats nor Republicans are confident.

Democratic congressional candidate Melanie Stansbury has tied herself closely to President Joe Biden and his agenda [Susan Montoya Bryan/ AP Photo]

Democrats are nervous and Republicans in the United States are hopeful as voting concludes on Tuesday in a special election in New Mexico for the US House of Representatives.

Four candidates are competing in Deb Haaland’s former district which includes most of the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest. Haaland was named Interior Secretary by President Joe Biden, creating the opening.

The district is heavily Democratic and voted for President Biden over former President Donald Trump, a Republican, by a 23-percentage-point margin. The Democratic candidate, state Representative Melanie Stansbury, is favoured.

But Republican state Senator Mark Moores has given her a surprisingly competitive run by talking about border security, rising crime and Democratic threats to cut police funding. His message is likely a test run for Republicans who will be seeking to regain control of Congress in the 2022 elections.

Republican state Senator Mark Moores has mounted a credible challenge in a heavily Democratic district [File: Morgan Lee/AP Photo]

Moores promised to bring “real-life experience” to Washington and accused Biden and Democrats who control Congress of “turning a blind eye” to the risks of letting large numbers of migrants cross the US border into New Mexico.

Homicides and violent crimes have risen sharply in Albuquerque in recent years and border crossings have surged since Biden won the election.

“People are scared,” Moore said in an interview with US broadcaster Fox News during the campaign, promising to work to make New Mexico safer while seeking to tie Stansbury, the Democratic candidate, to proposals by Black Lives Matter activists to “defund the police”.

Meanwhile, Stansbury has embraced Biden’s core agenda for post-pandemic economic recovery, free universal preschool and infrastructure spending that modernizes energy and transportation to address global warming.

In debates, she has endorsed a $15 national minimum wage, reforms to address police misconduct and systemic racism, and a more humanitarian approach to immigration.

Two additional candidates are vying for untethered voters in a state with strong currents of libertarian politics.

Independent contender Aubrey Dunn Jr, a former Republican elected to statewide office as land commissioner who did not seek 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.

Republicans account for 31 percent of registered voters in the district and turnout is likely to be low without presidential candidates on the ballot, giving Moores hope he can score an upset despite Democrats’ advantages in early voting.

Both major-party candidates have delved into attack ads and negative campaigning – a sign that neither campaign is confident, observed Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico.

“Nobody’s felt confident enough that they can just ride it out in a positive way. So they’re both feeling a little stressed,” Atkeson told the AP.

Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, appeared in New Mexico last week on Stansbury’s behalf.

At a rally with labour unions and other supporters, Emhoff acknowledged the thin margin Democrats have in Congress and said electing Stansbury would help to ensure the party’s legislative initiatives make it to the president’s desk.

Democrats presently control the House of Representatives by a 219-211 margin. All 435 members will be up for re-election in November 2022.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies