2021 New Mexico special election: Why you should watch closely

The 2021 New Mexico special election is today, June 1. And while we’re not hearing a lot of buzz about the race, it has some significance.

For the first time in the Biden presidency, a Democrat and Republican will go head to head in a high-stakes election.

Up for grabs is New Mexico’s open First Congressional district seat which was vacated on March 16 when then Rep. Deb Haaland (D) resigned to become Secretary of the Interior in the Biden Administration. 

Not to be confused with seats in the New Mexico State Legislature, this opening is for a spot within the U.S. House of Representatives and the winner will be one of (eventually) 435 Members in that chamber crafting national-level legislation that’ll impact us all.

So, why wasn’t there a primary first?

Instead of a primary system, candidates for the special election were chosen by each party’s state central committee.

The Republican Party nominated their candidate, State Senator Mark Moores, on March 27, 2021. And the Democratic Party nominated State Representative Melanie Stansbury in a runoff on March 31, 2021 after trailing State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez by more than 15 percentage points in the first round of voting.

Although the 2021 New Mexico special election for Congress won’t tell us as much about the post-Trump political landscape as the gubernatorial race in Virginia in 5 months, it may offer an early general indication about where Democrats, Republicans, and independents stand.

After today’s special election, we’ll be asking:

Which party’s voters were more energized?

How did independents lean?


Was there any attrition (versus 2018 and 2020) in the voting for either party? If so, how much?

The returns from New Mexico are especially important because some experts, based on historical precedents, predict Republicans will regain control of Congress in 2022.

In the past 30 years, the party out of presidential power has usually made substantial gains in midterm elections during a president’s first term. Given Democrats’ extremely slim margins of control, the assumption that Democrats will lose at least one if not both chambers of Congress seems like a safe bet. However, a few of us aren’t so convinced.

Some of us believe former President Donald Trump’s untraditional style and unique presidency, along with his continued involvement in politics will, again, throw a proverbial wrench in the norm.

One could argue when Trump is involved, political norms don’t apply. And the GOP’s not-so-secret weapon could also be its Achilles heel.

New Mexico’s First Congressional district, the past, and today’s race
Stansbury, the Democrat, is heavily favored to win this seat based on pre-election data, such as partisan lean and early voting data, and the district’s recent voting history.

While the result probably isn’t in question, the margin of victory and turnout are. And that’s what we should pay close attention to.

Previous takeaways leading up to the 2021 New Mexico special election for Congress

  • The district’s racial demographics are as follows: 47.4% White, 42.6% Hispanic, 3.5% Native American, 2.6% Black, 2.1% other, and 1.8% Asian
  • Haaland, the previous occupant, won the seat in 2018 by 23 percentage points but was re-elected by only 17 in 2020.
  • In the U.S. Presidential Election, Joe Biden carried the district by 23 percentage points; Four years prior, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the district by 26 percentage points.
  • A Republican last won the seat in 2006, edging her opponent by .04 percent.
  • In 2008, a Democrat won the seat by 11 percentage points against another challenger; The Republican incumbent was not on the ticket.
  • In the 2010 midterms, where Democrats were manhandled by Republicans, the Democratic incumbent held on to win by slightly under 4 percentage points.
  • In 2012, the Democratic challenger defeated her Republican opponent by 18 percentage points; and 2 years later, the same Democrat, as the incumbent this time, won by 17 percentage points.
  • In 2016, the then-Democratic incumbent, Michelle Lujan Grisham, won re-election by over 30 percentage points.

If you’re a Democrat, you’d like to see Stansbury win this race by at least 17 percentage points and, ideally, 20 plus. After all, the previous seat’s owner won by 17 percentage points in November and Biden carried the district by 23.

In fact, a 20 plus percentage point win for Stansbury would – or should – make the GOP a little nervous.

Obviously, a Republican upset here would spell d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r for Democrats, but anything less than a double-digit win for Stansbury may serve as an ominous sign as well.

Tags: 2021 elections