As The Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel noted, in Bernalillo County where Albuquerque is located, Democrats won 60% of the vote in 2018, 59% in 2020, to 61% on Tuesday. “If you can spot the GOP’s suburban comeback you have better eyes than me,” he quipped in a tweet.
It was a notable comment coming from a reporter who generally seemed to think her opponent, Republican state Sen. Mark Moores, was getting traction with his relentless focus on the rising crime rate in Albuquerque. Moores repeatedly attacked Stansbury as a “radical” who wanted to “defund the police.” According to Weigel’s political newsletter The Trailer, Moores mentioned the BREATHE Act—a criminal justice and police reform proposal from Black Lives Matter activists—no less than seven times in the first debate after Stansbury tweeted support for it last month.
Stansbury dodged and declined to engage the attacks, instead focusing on policies like economic fairness, climate change, and the necessity of Democrats continuing to maintain control of House, according to The New York Times.
She also continually pointed out that Moores opposed Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which she featured in her first attack ad against Moores along with the fact that he was a Republican, a detail not included on-screen in Moores’ ads, according to Weigel.
In so doing, Stansbury pounced on some of Moores’ first dodges regarding President Biden and his broadly popular pandemic relief package. Immediately after Moores won the GOP nomination in March to challenge Stansbury, he refused to clarify whether he backed Biden’s relief plan and whether he believed Biden was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
During a news conference following the vote, Moores dodged questions about whether he supported the most recent federal stimulus package or if he would have voted to certify November’s presidential election results.
Weigel also noted one of Stansbury’s strategic departures from Democratic tactics last cycle:
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.
Getting personal endorsements and testimonials from law enforcement may be one takeaway for Democrats running in suburban districts this cycle who feel the need to create some separation from a “defund the police” message. At the same time, Black Lives Matter activists should absolutely keep pushing the necessity of police reform using whatever messages ring truest to them. It’s not one or the other, it’s both/and. And just like Black Lives Matter activists shouldn’t be discouraged from using any of the tools in their toolbox, neither should Democratic candidates seeking to win their districts.
Even though Stansbury’s win isn’t necessarily predictive for 2022, it does provide a path forward for Democratic candidates running in suburban districts that could ultimately decide which party controls the House for the remainder of Biden’s first term.
Moores’ near total emphasis on crime and law and order fell completely flat despite Albuquerque’s rising crime rate. That may have been due to Stansbury’s strategic choices, but it also may reflect the fact that it’s impossible for Republicans to credibly claim they’re the law and order candidate when they won’t condemn the Jan. 6 Capitol siege and refuse to admit what is plainly true: Joe Biden won the election. Many Republicans next year are going to find themselves in a similar squeeze.
But Stansbury did something else: She wrapped herself up in Biden and his policies, which have proven enormously popular thus far by any measure. Given what we know right now, Democrats should want 2022 to be a referendum on Biden, who has worked diligently to vaccinate the nation, bring the pandemic under control, get Americans back to work, and ease the pain inflicted on millions of families by COVID-19.
“Everything is on the line this election,” Stansbury impressed upon her supporters last week, campaigning alongside second gentleman Doug Emhoff after appearing with first lady Jill Biden a month earlier. “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.”
Voters in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District seemed to get that, and they responded resoundingly to the very real existential threat to our democracy.