Last month, there was quite a bit of buzz (enthusiastic among Republicans, fearful among Democrats) when Democrats were shut out of a runoff spot in a special congressional election in Texas. Yes, it was a strongly Republican district with a vast field of candidates led by the late incumbent’s widow. And yes, national Democrats didn’t invest much in the race, in part because Texas Republicans will be in a position to gerrymander the district before the next election. But there was some talk that the results might be a harbinger of a monster pro-GOP midterm in 2022.
The latest congressional special election, however, should reduce Chicken Little alarums among Democrats: In a New Mexico contest to replace Interior secretary Deb Haaland, in which the two parties were able to nominate single candidates, Democratic state representative Melanie Stansbury easily dispatched Republican state senator Mark Moores by a 60-36 margin. The result wasn’t terribly surprising since Joe Biden carried this Albuquerque-based district by 23 points, and Haaland won it by a 16-point margin down-ballot. Stansbury’s 24-point victory beat the spread. It was also noteworthy since Moores heavily emphasized the law-and-order message that Republicans had deployed with some success last year, in a district with rising (albeit not rapidly) violent-crime rates and against a candidate who at one point appeared to endorse a Black Lives Matter police-reform initiative. As in Texas, impending redistricting (controlled by Democrats in New Mexico) was a factor in convincing the losing party not to target the race with national resources.
In the end, Democrats outworked and outspent Republicans in a Democratic district, and no matter of GOP mystical pre-midterm mojo mattered, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich observed before voters voted:
From May 1 to May 19, [Stansbury] aired $194,000 worth of TV ads to Moores’s $18,000. And overall, for the entire year and counting all campaign spending (not just TV ads), Stansbury outspent Moores $875,000 to $470,000 as of May 12. She also had more than four times as much cash on hand ($525,000 to $126,000) ready to deploy for the final stretch.
With this strong finish, Stansbury has eliminated whatever suspense there was about the outcome of the race.
Stansbury’s win gives Democrats 220 House seats and a four-vote margin in the chamber. There are four remaining special elections on tap this year — the final runoff in Texas, two in Ohio, and one in Florida — but none are expected to change the ultimate partisan balance in the House.
Republicans will remain optimistic that they can flip the House in 2022, with history (on average, the party controlling the White House has lost 27 House seats in midterms dating back to World War II) and a redistricting advantage buttressing their odds of success. But it’s not at all clear that the GOP will have an extraordinary midterm wave or that Republicans can build a landslide by grinding away at a simplistic anti-crime, anti-socialism message.