Can the GOP pick up Haaland’s seat in New Mexico?

Ed mentioned this race earlier today as part of an analysis of how the Democrats’ stubborn addiction to gun control legislation might be playing as we move toward the midterms. And the race to replace Deb Haaland, who is now working in the Biden administration, may definitely turn out to be a canary in the coal mine in that regard. But today’s race for New Mexico’s First Congressional District may turn out to ride on more than that one issue and predicting the finish (even now while voting is still taking place) could be trickier than it might seem at first glance. Democrats seem to be acting pretty confident about holding the seat, and they definitely have reason to be feeling that way. They hold a roughly 2:1 advantage in early voting by party registration, though there are another 11,000 independent votes to figure out. Halland held her seat last November by a significant margin, so this district definitely wasn’t “Trump country,” nor is it now. But that was seven months ago and it feels like that could have been a century in political timekeeping. (NBC News)

At stake in this contest between Democratic state Rep. Melanie Stansbury and Republican state Sen. Mark Moores is the Democrats’ narrow House majority (219-211), as well as a test of how potent the issue of crime might still be for the GOP.

“Mr. Moores has spotlighted the rising murder rate in Albuquerque and assailed Ms. Stansbury as soft on crime for supporting a little-known proposal in Congress that would cut funding for local police departments,” the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin writes.

More: “In an interview, Ms. Stansbury offered no regrets for her support of the measure, the so-called BREATHE Act, an expansive criminal justice proposal pushed by racial justice activists.”

If there’s anyone out there thinking this will wind up being a slam dunk for Mark Moores, I’d like a double-shot of whatever they’re drinking, please. And yet, not only might this race not be entirely out of reach but it could carry some potent implications even if Moores comes up short. Bear with me for a moment. First, here are a few factors that could generate some serious headwinds for the Democrat.

Stansbury doesn’t have the benefit of running against Donald Trump, which animated a lot of voters last November who might not have been inclined to show up at the polls or even to be vocal supporters of the Democratic agenda. Nor does this race have the same nail-biting energy of the Georgia special elections when control of the Senate (and any chance of moving Joe Biden’s agenda forward) was on the line and the entire nation was on the edge of its seat. Winning or losing this race won’t flip the House majority or make more than a 0.5% difference in its size.

Add all of that together and you have a formula for a lower turnout. And one thing that hasn’t changed in American politics recently is the fact that low turnout elections without massive amounts of money poured into them tend to feature a higher percentage turnout among older, more conservative voters. Moores isn’t running on Donald Trump’s coattails. But he is running as the law and order candidate when that is increasingly on people’s minds across the country. He’s also promising to fight for tighter immigration control in a state that bears a fair portion of the brunt of Joe Biden’s failed border policies. Meanwhile, Stansbury is standing by her support of a bill aimed at defunding the police, backed by “the squad.”

Those independent voters I mentioned earlier might not be such big fans of a furthest-left agenda given everything that’s going on today. Does that mean that Moore should expect to either win or come close? There’s no way we could honestly say that in advance because it’s still a steep hill to climb. But even if he loses, the Democrats are going to be watching this race nervously to see what the margin winds up being.

It’s really not hard to argue that any result where Stansbury carries a smaller margin than Joe Biden took in November (a 23% spread) is bad news for the Democrats next November. Moores isn’t just running against Melanie Stansbury. He’s running against Joe Biden’s entire agenda and Stansbury is left to carry the torch for Uncle Joe. If she ends up squeaking past the finish line with a victory margin in single digits after Haaland carried it by almost 24% only seven months ago, that will tell us a lot about how many persuadable voters are already having buyer’s remorse and where they think the country is heading right now.

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