Last night Democratic candidate Melanie Stansbury defeated Republican candidate Mark Moores in the special election to fill the U.S. House seat vacated by Deb Haaland when she became Secretary of the Interior. Stansbury was always going to win, given the demographics of her heavily Democratic-leaning district. But the margin of victory actually tells us something interesting.
Stansbury won last night by a whopping 29 points. That’s notable, given that Haaland only won reelection by 17 points last November. That’s a twelve point gain for the Democrats, in this same district, in just six months.
To be clear, there were other factors involved. The Republican candidate ran a troubled campaign in this special election, to say the least. But on the other hand, the Democrats lacked an incumbency advantage in this special election, which they had in this same district back in November. You can say that these two factors may have moved the needle a few points in either direction, but not twelve points.
It’s pretty clear what two things moved the needle this much in yesterday’s special election: 1) President Biden has a high approval rating thus far, meaning voters in the middle are trending Democrat even more so now than they were in November. 2) Liberal activists are more motivated to win right now than conservative activists, which makes sense given the right wing disarray created by Trump’s ongoing downfall.
I remember back when the first meaningful special election took place after the 2016 election, and the Democrats outperformed by about five points. Most observers were disheartened by the fact that the Democrat still lost. But I pointed out that the outperformance pointed to good things for the Democrats in the 2018 midterms. Sure enough, that’s when they won control of the House.
So last night’s twelve point outperformance in the New Mexico special election can also be seen as a positive sign for the Democrats in terms of where things are trending toward in the 2022 midterms. Of course liberal activists will still have to put in the work in order to retain control of the House and Senate, given that the Republicans are supposed to have a natural advantage in 2022. But now we have some hard data that points to Democrats being on track to potentially outperform in 2022 after all.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report