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Democrat Melanie Stansbury wins special House election in N.M.

CBS News logo CBS News 6/2/2021 Aaron Navarro
a woman holding a cell phone: Biden Emhoff © Susan Montoya Bryan / AP Biden Emhoff

Democrat Melanie Stansbury has won the special election in New Mexico's 1st district, according to the Associated Press. Her win is a positive sign for the party, adding to their razor-thin majority in Congress and breaking their streak of underperformances since the 2020 election.

While the margin is still being counted, Stansbury is leading Republican nominee Mark Moores by just under 30 points with more than 70% of the vote in.

"This moment is not just about standing up, but about leaning into the moment and bringing fundamental change to our politics and to our country," Stansbury told supporters and staffers at her victory party on Tuesday. "You made it possible for us to win this race and hold this seat... because of the importance to this race for delivering President Joe Biden's agenda."

New Mexico's 1st district was left open by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who won this seat by more than 16 points in 2020. The district has been trending solidly Democratic since 2008, and voted for President Biden by 23 points. 

Still, after a special election in Texas' 6th shut out any Democratic candidates, national groups are holding nothing back in this race. 

Stansbury, a state representative who beat a 7-term Republican for her seat, received more than $231,687 from Congressional members and outside groups between April and mid-May. Another $23,300 came in on Sunday.

Democratic congressional candidate Melanie Stansbury speaks during a campaign rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday, May 27, 2021. She was joined by Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris. The trip marked Emhoff's first on behalf of a candidate. / Credit: Susan Montoya Bryan / AP © Provided by CBS News Democratic congressional candidate Melanie Stansbury speaks during a campaign rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday, May 27, 2021. She was joined by Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris. The trip marked Emhoff's first on behalf of a candidate. / Credit: Susan Montoya Bryan / AP

By comparison, Moores, who has served in the state legislature since 2013, received $43,251 between April and mid-May.

Democratic reinforcements were lacking in the runoff for Texas' 6th district, in part due to the nature of the wide-open blanket primary. Jana Lynne Sanchez, who came in third behind two Republicans, got $7,200 in outside help in the weeks before her race, according to a pre-election report. 

The White House has also gotten involved in this special election — their first move in a 2021 House race since senior advisor Cedric Richmond endorsed Democrat Troy Carter for his old Louisiana seat.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff paid a visit to Albuquerque in late May to campaign for Stansbury. First lady Jill Biden was also in the state in April and both Mr. Biden and Haaland have endorsed Stansbury.

"It's crunch time. Don't look at the polls. Don't look at anything. Act like we're down. There's a sense of urgency," Emhoff said at the event with Stansbury.

Stansbury is a former scientist and Senate aide who worked in the Office of Management and Budget under former President Obama, and has focused on economic recovery and education in her campaign. She's been backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who once represented the district. 

Republicans, meanwhile, were looking to see if their messaging on police and public safety can still resonate with voters, even in heavily Democratic districts.  

Moores is a former football player for the University of New Mexico who flipped his state senate seat in 2012. He has made public safety the crux of his campaign against Stansbury, hitting her for supporting the BREATHE Act, a bill supported by Black Lives Matter activists that's been backed by Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.

a man wearing a suit and tie: In this March 20, 2021, file photo, Republican state Sen. Mark Moores debates legislation in the final hours of a 60-day legislative session in Santa Fe, N.M. A special congressional election is underway for an Albuquerque-based seat dominated by Democrats since 2009. Early voting by absentee ballot begins Tuesday, May 4 as major party candidates participate in their first public debate. / Credit: Morgan Lee / AP © Provided by CBS News In this March 20, 2021, file photo, Republican state Sen. Mark Moores debates legislation in the final hours of a 60-day legislative session in Santa Fe, N.M. A special congressional election is underway for an Albuquerque-based seat dominated by Democrats since 2009. Early voting by absentee ballot begins Tuesday, May 4 as major party candidates participate in their first public debate. / Credit: Morgan Lee / AP

"We need the resources and the last thing we need to do is pass radical legislation like the BREATHE Act, which defunds the police," Moores said at a debate earlier this month. 

In response, Stansbury has pointed to her involvement in bringing funding to local police departments.

Moores messaging is a continuation of the attacks House Republicans used against Democratic members in 2020, tying them to the "Defund the Police" movement. It's especially prevalent in the city of Albuquerque, which has seen an uptick in homicides and assault from 2020 to 2021.

After losing 15 seats in the 2020 elections, the House Democratic campaign arm did a "deep dive" that acknowledged how effective Republican messaging was-- while still putting the brunt of it on turnout driven by former President Trump.

The DCCC transferred $36,000 to the state Democratic party in late April. Their counterparts at the National Republican Congressional Committee have also gotten involved, albeit at a smaller scale, and sent $5,000 to Moores.

"The whole country was waiting to see if the Republican attacks would work," Maloney said at Stansbury's victory party on Tuesday. "The message tonight is that Democrats who deliver results beat Republicans who spread lies and fear."

The only public poll showed Stansbury with a 16 point lead over Moores, with Independent candidate Aubrey Dunn getting 5% and Libertarian candidate Chris Manning with 3%.

A Stansbury victory shores up Democrat's current 219-211 majority in the House, which has proven to create incredibly tight House votes on Capitol security spending, and could be crucial ahead of a potential July vote on an infrastructure bill. 

"If we don't make sure that we keep this seat, then that vote will get closer and closer… we cannot lose this," said Democratic Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez of New Mexico during a virtual get out the vote rally

"I'm going to show up for Melanie until June 1st and then I'm going to show up when she gets sworn in on June 2nd. Because we aren't going to give her a day of rest, are we?"

Democratic voters have outpaced Republicans in the early vote by a margin of 2 to 1, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Polls in New Mexico's 1st close Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT.

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