Corrected, May 24 | Democrats have rushed to support New Mexico state Rep. Melanie Stansbury’s bid for what is considered a safe Democratic seat that Deb Haaland vacated to become Interior secretary, new campaign finance disclosures show.
Stansbury raised almost $1.2 million in roughly six weeks as contributions flooded in from House Democratic leaders, labor unions and special interest groups after weeks of appeals from party leaders warning that the June 1 special election for the Albuquerque-area 1st District was “critical” and that a loss would be “devastating.”
“This is the first big test for House Democrats in 2021,” read one such missive, from California Rep. Adam B. Schiff. “We cannot let Republicans flip this seat.”
Stansbury, a former Senate staffer, collected almost triple the $344,000 raised by her Republican opponent, state Sen. Mark Moores, during the April 1 to May 12 period covered by reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday.
“I am humbled by the growing support of people who recognize the importance of this election and want to send a representative to Congress who grew up in our district, understands our communities, and has the leadership and heart to help rebuild a more equitable future,” Stansbury said in a statement from her campaign.
Turnout expected to be low
Democratic strategists downplayed the urgency of the party’s appeals in interviews this week. They said Democrats wanted to take nothing for granted and pointed out that Republicans have been known to win even in safe seats in New Mexico in special elections, when low turnout makes it easier to pull off an upset.
But Moores’ campaign said they are not distracted by the national attention Democrats have showered on the race and believe that Moores, the owner of a medical diagnostic testing business, will win by maintaining focus on local issues, particularly rising rates of violent crime in urban parts of the district.
“For all her out of state money from coastal elites Melanie hasn’t been able to buy a message or energy,” Moores campaign manager Chris Escobedo said in an email. “The reality is she is out of touch with every day New Mexicans and that’s why all the energy in the race is with us.”
The special election, one of the first of the cycle, has taken on outsize significance as resignations to fill positions in President Joe Biden’s administration, and one death, have left Speaker Nancy Pelosi with almost no cushion on close votes.
Barring any flipping in special elections, Republicans will need a net gain of just five seats in the 2022 midterms, a cycle during which the GOP will have a historic advantage as the party out of control of the White House.
With the partisan lean of almost every district in the country likely to change after district lines are redrawn in the fall to reflect the 2020 census, the long-term prospects for the winner in New Mexico are unclear. District lines are drawn by a nonpartisan commission in the state.
Early voting underway
The fundraising numbers come almost a week into early voting that has seen low turnout on both sides but a substantially higher showing for Democrats, according to local media reports.
Moores’ campaign said decreasing numbers of absentee voters over the past several days showed Democrats had hit a ceiling and predicted more Republicans would vote in person on election day.
The 1st District, which is New Mexico’s only urban seat, backed Biden over Donald Trump by 23 points last fall, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. Haaland won reelection by 16 points in November.
The partisan lean of the District was widely considered to be a factor when Biden chose Haaland to be the country’s first Native American interior secretary in December.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the special election Solid Democratic.
Democrats have nevertheless approached the race with caution. Republicans have treated it as within their reach, but outside groups that could raise and spend unlimited amounts have largely stayed out of the race on both sides.
Signs of a potentially competitive race started with the state Democratic Party’s selection of Stansbury — who touted her record of unseating a seven-term Republican in a conservative-leaning state House district in 2018 — over a more progressive opponent at a nominating convention in March.
Negative ads on the air
Meanwhile Moores, a former University of New Mexico football player, loaned his campaign $200,000 in March. Both campaigns launched television attack ads in April, something candidates generally refrain from doing unless they take an opponent seriously.
Each candidate accused each other of not doing enough to help constituents recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Moores has also attacked Stansbury for tweeting her support for a House bill that originated in the Black Lives Matter movement and is meant to address racial discrimination in law enforcement. Republicans have portrayed the so-called BREATHE ACT as a progressive attempt to divert resources from police departments. That’s an attack Republicans think will resonate in Albuquerque, where violent crime rates have been on the rise.
Stansbury has attacked Moores, whose lab received about $1.9 million in federal payroll support loans and conducted COVID-19 testing during the pandemic, for failing to meet a federal deadline to file personal financial disclosures. The campaign said the disclosure was delayed because of delayed federal tax deadlines this year.
FEC disclosures show that Stansbury had more than four times as much money on hand for the campaign’s final weeks than Moores. She had almost $525,000 on hand on May 12 to his $125,000.
Stansbury raised almost 80 percent of the $1.4 million total for her campaign from individuals, including 22 percent from so-called small donors, people giving $200 or less. Moores’ self-funding accounted for one-third of his $595,000 total raised, while 12 percent came from small donors.
Other candidates, party committees and ideological and labor political action committees have given Stansbury $232,000, or 17 percent of all the money she raised.
Pelosi and leadership give
That includes nearly $100,000 from more than 50 House Democrats. Pelosi’s campaign account and leadership PAC gave $14,000 combined. Another $7,000 came from Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and $5,000 each from Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and DCCC chairman Sean Patrick Maloney.
And Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, who was Stansbury’s boss when she was the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was one of her earliest donors, giving $2,000 on Dec. 28. She gave another $2,000 on May 1.
Stansbury also received $35,000 from groups that support Democratic women and Democratic women who support abortion rights, including Elect Democratic Women, EMILY’s List, Women’s Political Committee and Tri-State Maxed Out Women.
Labor unions giving the maximum $5,000 each to the Democrat included United Food and Commercial Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, International Association of Firefighters, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.
A $5,000 check from the National Republican Congressional Committee and $2,000 from Rep. Yvette Herrell, a freshman who flipped the state’s 2nd District in November, appear to be the only donations Moores got connected to the national GOP. He also got more than $20,000 from a variety of state legislative candidates and local party committees.
Just three PACs besides the NRCC gave Moores the maximum $5,000 allowed: Public Service Company of New Mexico, Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., and the American Society of Anaesthesiologists.
Donations from issue-related PACs to Moores include $1,000 from the National Rifle Association, while Stansbury got $1,500 from Brady PAC and $1,000 from Giffords PAC, which campaign for gun control. Stansbury also got $10,000 from the League of Conservation Voters and $1,100 from the Sierra Club.
Donors in New Mexico comprised 95 percent of Moores’ total contributions from individuals, compared with 62 percent for Stansbury. By a more than 2-to-1 ratio, however, Stansbury raised more money in-state than Moores did, taking in $516,000 to his $253,000. These figures only include donors giving more than $200, because the identity of those giving smaller amounts does not have to be disclosed.
California ranked second as the home state of Stansbury donors, giving $85,000, followed by $40,000 from New York, and $37,000 from Washington, D.C., and $34,000 from Massachusetts. Nevada was Moores’ No. 2 state, with donors giving $3,400.
This report was corrected to accurately reflect the House Democratic majority.