Yet, this race will also be one of our first insights into the political environment a little more than four months into President Joe Biden’s administration. Federal special elections, as a group, usually give us a fairly good idea how midterms are going to go.
Democrats barely won the House of Representatives in 2020. They took the national House popular vote by 3 points, leading to a small 5-seat majority. Any movement in the national environment toward the GOP is likely to result in the Democrats losing control of the chamber.
It would take a truly unusual event for Republican Mark Moores to beat Stansbury. This heavily Democratic district covering much of Albuquerque just hasn’t voted for Republicans recently.
Democrats, though, don’t only want to win this election. They want to win it big because of what it says about the larger state of play.
Historically, the swing in House special elections from the last two presidential elections is telling. Combining the 2016 and 2020 results and giving more weight to the most recent one, New Mexico’s 1st District is about 18 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole.
This means that a basic baseline for Democrats is that Stansbury wins by 18 points. This isn’t an exact estimate, as other factors such as candidate quality can impact special elections, like any other election.
Democrats want Stansbury’s likely victory to at least come close to the +18 point Democratic baseline. Another clear underperformance, after Texas’ 6th, would be a true suggestion that the national environment has shifted since November.
From the 1994 to 2018 election cycles, the average swing in federal special elections from the previous presidential results has come within 3 points of the House popular vote in midterms. It’s not a perfect connection, but the correlation is high at +0.97.
The bottom line is Tuesday’s special election in New Mexico is a small piece of the puzzle. That said, history, especially recent history, indicates that it’s still an important piece.