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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Steve Kornacki, MSNBC political correspondent, reports on the outcome of the special congressional election in New Mexico to replace now-Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, with Democrat Melanie Stansbury projected to defeat Republican Mark Moores by a similar margin to Biden’s 2020 win in that district, dispelling notions of a Republican swing.

Is a Democratic Landslide in New Mexico’s Congressional Special Election a Sign?,” Elliot Hannon asks at slate.com. Hannon explains, “The 25-point walloping appears to show that Democratic support for Biden is holding, as the party tries to hold onto its slim advantage in the House while simultaneously fighting against the American electorate’s habit of returning the opposition party to power in the House in the cycle after a newly elected president takes office. Stansbury’s opponent ran almost entirely on the rise in crime in the Albuquerque-based district in an effort to make the race a referendum on crime, a line of attack that is surely going to be front and center of the Republican election effort in 2022 amid elevated national crime rates on the tail of the pandemic.” Hannon shares Cook Political Report House editor Dave Wasserman’s tweet on the race: “Here’s my line on the #NM01 special tonight (district was Biden +23, Haaland +16 in ’20). Melanie Stansbury (D) by… >15: Dems should be very happy 10-15: about what we might expect <10: sign of a Dem turnout problem post-Trump.” However, Hannon notes, “Democrats took far more interest and invested far more resources in the race as national Republicans largely stayed on the sidelines. Stansbury raised three times more money, allowing her to blanket the local airwaves, while receiving a wave of visits from high-profile Democrats to maintain enthusiasm.”

One lesson of Stansbury’s victory over Republican Mark Moores is that a brutal GOP campaign to brand the Democrat as a “soft on crime,” defund the police liberal didn’t work at all. As Paul Waldman observed in the Washington Post, “The pulsing heart of Moores’s campaign was an absolutely horrific TV ad warning of the danger Stansbury posed, showing video of a woman being assaulted in a dark alley while the sound of children screaming played in the background. It could have come right from the early 1990s….But here’s the surprise: It didn’t work. The vote in the New Mexico election turned out to be exactly in line with the district’s recent history. In 2018, Haaland got 59 percent of the vote, in 2020 she got 58 percent of the vote, and Stansbury got 60 percent of the vote….Might it be that voters won’t respond to fear-based, “tough on crime” rhetoric in the same way they used to?…Stansbury didn’t counter the “soft on crime” attacks as Democrats have in the past, by trying to prove that they’re even tougher than Republicans. She stressed issues such as hunger, climate change and economic development that are important to her constituents. She had her own ads touting support from law enforcement — but they weren’t about supporting punitive measures to lock up more people….So this is the challenge Democrats face: They can fall back into the defensive crouch with which they are so familiar, convinced that every Republican attack must be turning voters against them. Or they can believe the evidence we’ve seen that those attacks don’t necessarily work, and keep talking about the approach they believe will produce a safer and more just society.” As Waldman notes, that’s not to say that “soft on crime” attacks won’t work in other districts.

Here’s one of Stansbury’s ads:

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