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Wednesday June 16th, 2021 4:57PM

New Mexico congressional election tests Democrats' dominance

By The Associated Press
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A special congressional election in New Mexico on Tuesday is testing political enthusiasm among Democrats in an increasingly progressive district last won by a Republican in 2006.

The winner of the four-way race for the 1st Congressional District will fill a seat left vacant by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as she joined the Biden Cabinet. Republicans hope to prevail and erode the 219-211 Democratic majority in Congress ahead of midterm elections in 2022.

Democratic state Rep. Melanie Stansbury has aligned her campaign closely with initiatives from the White House on pandemic relief, infrastructure spending and interventions to slow climate change.

“Everything is on the line, from the well-being of our communities to the majority in the House and our ability to carry out the president's agenda,” Stanbury told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

GOP state Sen. Mark Moores’ campaign to flip the seat held by Democrats since 2009 has highlighted concerns about crime in Albuquerque and has painted his Democratic opponent as a progressive with a radical agenda to defund traditional police agencies. In the final hours of campaigning, Moores highlighted his support for gun rights and outrage over crime rates in Albuquerque and the city's 50th homicide of the year.

“That's the issue that people are really concerned about, especially families and mothers,” Moores said. “I've stood for providing training and support for our law enforcement officers because they need our support, they don't need to be vilified.”

Responding to Moores regarding public safety, Stansbury says she has corralled tax dollars for police initiatives as a legislator, but also believes policing reforms are needed to address systematic racism in the U.S.

Registered Democrats slightly outnumbered Republicans at the polls on Election Day as of 2 p.m., state election regulators announced. Unaffiliated and minor-party voters accounted for 14% of ballots.

Democrats dominated early in-person voting that ended Saturday as well as early absentee balloting — casting nearly six out of 10 ballots prior to Election Day.

Far fewer voters were likely to participate overall than in 2020, a record-setting year for voting in the 1st District.

Encompassing Albuquerque, rural Torrance County and other outlying areas, the district's voters have heavily favored Democratic candidates in recent years. They shunned President Donald Trump with a gap of 23 percentage points in 2020 and reelected Haaland with a margin of 16 percentage points as voter participation reached an all-time high.

Two additional candidates are vying for votes in the race in a state that has strong currents of libertarian politics.

Independent contender Aubrey Dunn Jr., a former Republican elected to statewide office as land commissioner without seeking reelection in 2018, has cast himself as a staunch defender of gun rights and an experienced steward of public lands.

Libertarian nominee Chris Manning campaigned on an unorthodox plan to reduce health care costs by eliminating employer-based coverage and insurance requirements.

Stansbury has highlighted her hardscrabble upbringing in Albuquerque, while Moores frequently invokes Latino family ties that date back to the region’s Spanish colonial era, in a state where Hispanic pride is an enduring staple of politics.

The seat has consistently been a stepping stone to higher office for Republican and Democratic politicians, including now-deceased Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., former U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

___

Lee reported from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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