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Congressional special election showcases Republicans' 2021 message

Both parties are using a special election "to test their messaging" ahead of next year's midterm cycle. Given the GOP's rhetoric, that's not encouraging.
Image: New Mexico State Rep. Melanie Stansbury
This April 30, 2021 image shows state Rep. Melanie Stansbury at a news conference about erasing a backlog in untested rape evidence kits in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Stansbury, a Democrat, is among the candidates vying for an open congressional seat in New MexicoSusan Montoya Bryan / AP Photo

When Interior Secretary Deb Haaland gave up her congressional seat to join the White House cabinet, she created a U.S. House vacancy. A week from today, voters in New Mexico's 1st congressional district will fill that vacancy.

At first blush, Democrats have reason to be optimistic about the race. This is, after all, a district President Joe Biden won by 23 points, and Deb Haaland was a popular incumbent, winning by a similar landslide last fall. For the special election, the party has nominated State Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D), who's already won local contests, and who's focusing her message on addressing infrastructure, climate change, drought, and food insecurity.

But Politico ran a report today on the special election, focusing specifically on the message from Stansbury's Republican opponent.

Her Republican opponent used the same pre-election push to warn that [Stansbury] would be heading to Washington to "defund the police" and back legislation to close all federal prisons within 10 years, releasing infamous criminals out on the street. "Think about who's in federal prison right now: El Chapo, the co-founder of al Qaeda, the Oklahoma City bomber, the Unabomber," state Sen. Mark Moores told a luncheon of three dozen Republican women on Friday. "That is how radical this agenda is, and we have to stop it."

For the record, Stansbury expressed some support for reforms authored by activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, but there was (and is) no actual bill, and her campaign has also made clear that she would not support elements of the package.

For example, there are no Democratic congressional candidates, in New Mexico or elsewhere, who've endorsing closing all federal prisons.

I can appreciate why some of this seems predictable. A Republican congressional candidate, fearing a likely defeat in a Democratic-leaning district, feels the need to tell demagogic lies about his opponent in the hopes of remaining competitive. This is hardly the first time such a political dynamic has unfolded in recent years.

But the special election in New Mexico's 1st is offering the parties a test-drive of sorts. Politico's report added, "Both parties are using next week's race in this central New Mexico district to test their messaging" ahead of next year's midterm cycle.

And that's what makes this notable. Stansbury and her party believe the key to success is to focus on a post-pandemic recovery and ambitious governing goals. Moores and the GOP hope to shift attention away from the post-pandemic recovery -- it makes Biden look better, and Republicans opposed the American Rescue Plan -- and the party has no ambitious governing goals to pursue.

And so, Moores is going with "defund the police" and the idea that Democrats intend to let terrorists walk the streets.

Coming soon to a congressional district near you.