Surge in crime, defund the police push are top issues in House special election
Republican candidate takes aim at Democrat in New Mexico congressional race over Albuquerque’s rising crime
Taking a page from a Republican playbook that resulted in some unexpected victories in House elections last November, GOP candidate Mark Moores is focusing much of his campaign in Tuesday’s special election for a vacant congressional seat in New Mexico over a surge in crime and the push by some on the left to "defund the police."
New Mexico’s First Congressional District, in the central part of the state, includes roughly three-quarters of Albuquerque, the state’s largest city, which like other urban areas across the country has witnessed a breakout in crime.
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Moores is zeroing in on that, as well as highlighting Democratic candidate state Rep. Melanie Stansbury’s initial support for the BREATHE Act, a wide ranging push for policing reform penned by activists allied with the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Rampant crime, drug violence, a record number of homicides in Albuquerque this year. It’s never been more dangerous. Melanie Stanbury’s plan – supporting legislation that defunds the police," charges the narrator in a recent Moores commercial that Stansbury disputes.
It’s not just his ads. Moores repeatedly spotlights the crime issue and the BREATHE Act as he campaigns across the district. And on Sunday the state GOP tweeted "Keep New Mexico Safe! Vote for Republican Mark Moores!"
At a debate earlier this month, Moores charged that "crime is out of control ... it has to stop. And, quite frankly, my opponent in the race is part of the problem."
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Stansbury seemed to brush off Moores' attack at the debate, and didn’t directly reference the BREATHE ACT, which would make stark changes to the criminal justice system.
"To address Albuquerque's crime problem, we have to invest in public safety," Stansbury responded. "We need to be reforming policing in the city, and we need to be investing in the underlying causes of crime like addiction and behavioral health."
And she’s running on her record as a state representative on the coronavirus pandemic recovery fostered by President Biden, highlighting her pledge to work with the president and his administration.
Moores, Stansbury, a Libertarian Party candidate, and an independent contender, are all running in the race to succeed Democrat Deb Haaland, who stepped down from her congressional seat earlier this year after she was confirmed as Interior secretary in President Biden’s Cabinet.
The district is solidly blue and Democrats have controlled the seat for a dozen years. Haaland won reelection last November by 16 points and Biden carried the district by 23 points over then-President Donald Trump.
Local observers say Stansbury enjoys a substantial advantage over Moores in the two weeks of early voting, which concluded on Saturday. And Stansbury has dramatically outraised Moores and she’s outspent him by a two-to-one margin to run ads.
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New Mexico Democratic Party chair Jessica Velasquez argued that "Moores has been forced to rely on fear mongering and falsehoods to motivate his supporters, because he knows he can't run on his extremist record. Moores' out-of-touch, anti-worker, and anti-women stances do not reflect the values of New Mexicans, so he's trying to distract from the conversations about the issues that matter most to voters."
And Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Chris Taylor told Fox News "Democrats in Congress just delivered $350 billion in new funding for state and local governments in the American Rescue Plan that is supporting police departments across the country."
And he highlighted that congressional Democrats are "advocating for critical reforms that increase both community safety and accountability in departments. Contrast that with House Republicans who voted against the American Rescue Plan and the January 6th Commission, which would have investigated the violent insurrection that injured several officers and led to one’s death."
But an emphasis on the rise in crime and the "defund the police" push proved effective for the Republicans in some the 2020 House races.
The GOP controlled the House for eight years before losing the majority in the chamber in the 2018 midterms amid a wave by House Democrats. But while Republicans lost the White House and their Senate majority in the 2020 contests, in the battle for the House they defied expectations and took a big bite out of the Democrats’ majority in November’s elections and currently only need a net gain of five seats in 2022 to regain control of the chamber.
A recent "deep dive" of the 2020 election compiled by House Democrats blamed effective messaging by House Republicans that focused on the far left’s "defund the police" movement, as well as bad polling that underestimated voter turnout by supporters of then-President Trump, for the party’s underwhelming performance in congressional elections last November.
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"The chickens are coming home to roost on the politics of defunding the police. By their own admission, it was one of the main reasons down ballot Democrats in battleground districts lagged last year," veteran Republican strategist Colin Reed told Fox News.
Reed highlighted that "with crime and violence surging across America, the issue has morphed from an esoteric debate to a tangible policy with real-life consequences. Even in deep blue New York City, the leading candidates to be the next mayor are all explicitly running on an anti-defund platform."
After suffering a electoral setback at the beginning of May in a congressional special election in Texas and defending their razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives, Democrats are taking no chances this time around in the New Mexico contest.
While the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP re-election arm, and pro-Republican outside groups have stayed on the sidelines in this showdown in the solidly blue district, the rival Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has infused a modest amount of resources in the race.
Democrats seem to be taking nothing for granted. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff traveled to New Mexico on Thursday to campaign for two days with Stansbury, and earlier in the week Biden put out a statement endorsing his party’s candidate.
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But the concentration by Moores and the Republicans on crime and the "defund" movement could be a sign of things to come in next year’s midterm elections.
"Off-year elections are an early indicator of where the national winds are blowing. Democrats in D.C. would be wise to take note, or pay a steep price in the midterms," Reed warned.