In one remarkable day, state Rep. Melanie Stansbury went from decided underdog to unquestioned favorite for a seat in Congress.

Stansbury, 42, began Wednesday with two enemies — the clock and arithmetic. She had 12 hours to make an improbable comeback.

Stansbury was in an unusual runoff election with state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez for the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District.

The senator held a sizable lead after the first round of balloting. Sedillo Lopez received 74 votes from members of the state Democratic Central Committee. Stansbury was a distant second with 43 votes.

Another 82 votes were split between six other candidates.

Though Sedillo Lopez had broken away from the pack, she still had to contend with Stansbury.

Sedillo Lopez had not received more than 50 percent of the total votes, the threshold for victory. She would face second-place candidate Stansbury in the runoff.

The math might have looked daunting had Stansbury paid close attention to it.

If she and Sedillo Lopez each held her base, Stansbury would need to win about 70 percent of the votes that had gone to the other six candidates. Many in politics consider 56 percent to be a landslide.

Stansbury told me she never worried about statistical hurdles. What she calls a "small universe of voters" would pick the congressional nominee. She committed herself to winning over every one of them.

She and her campaign team worked the phones, calling and texting central committee voters who by now were familiar to them.

"The only assumption I made was every person's voice matters," Stansbury said in an interview.

I didn't believe she could win. Neither did state Sen. Mark Moores, the Republican nominee for the congressional seat.

Moores and I crossed paths Wednesday afternoon outside the state Capitol. He said Stansbury would need a near sweep of voters who previously had supported another candidate.

Moores figured he would be running against Sedillo Lopez in the special election June 1 to replace former U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, now secretary of the interior.

Stansbury and Sedillo Lopez had much more to deal with Wednesday than their runoff election.

They were at work in the state Legislature's special session on legalizing recreational cannabis. Sedillo Lopez and Stansbury juggled the cannabis bill with their last-ditch calls and text messages to voters.

Against this frenzied backdrop, state Rep. Joy Garratt thought Stansbury would rally and win.

"Melanie takes nothing and no one for granted," said Garratt, D-Albuquerque. "She has a tremendous work ethic, and she practices good old-fashioned grassroots organizing."

Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, wasn't quite as confident Stansbury would win, but he thought she could.

"She seemed like she was in striking distance," McQueen said. "She is a hard worker, tough and bright."

Only one of the eliminated candidates, Francisco Fernández, endorsed Stansbury in the runoff. The rest stayed quiet.

Fernández had received just two votes from central committee members, but he was part of a movement for Stansbury.

Garratt said she knew the runoff would turn turn into a tight race based on the effort she saw from Stansbury.

In the end, Stansbury swayed far more voters than Sedillo Lopez did.

Stansbury received 103 votes to 97 for Sedillo Lopez. That breaks down to Stansbury winning 72 percent of the votes from people who initially had supported someone else.

By Thursday, in the heady glow of victory, Stansbury still hadn't broken down the numbers.

"Really, at the end of the day, politics is about listening to people," she said.

Her rise has been a speedy one.

Stansbury returned to her hometown of Albuquerque in 2016 after working in the White House Office of Management and Budget and for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

She made her first try for public office in 2018 a memorable one. Stansbury defeated Republican state Rep. Jimmie Hall, a seven-term incumbent, in a district stretching across Albuquerque's Northeast Heights.

Stansbury was the first Democrat to declare her candidacy for the congressional seat. She decided to run in December, right after President Joe Biden nominated Haaland for interior secretary.

With her tight win in the nominating election, Stansbury is a heavy favorite to defeat Moores.

No Republican has won New Mexico's 1st Congressional District since 2006.

In addition, voting patterns in Albuquerque have become more favorable to Democrats in the last five years. Moores is the only Republican state senator left in New Mexico's largest city.

Stansbury, more centrist than Sedillo Lopez, will be a tougher matchup for Moores in the special election.

Moores only launched his congressional campaign in March, but he says he can win.

If he does, there's one certainty: It won't be because Stansbury underestimated him.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.

(31) comments

Maggie Washburne

I met Melanie when she was running 3 years ago. As a scientist, I like her engineering perspectiveand her interest in STEM and growing New Mexico. She's been good with business and people. She has supported retention and repatriation of NM students and professionals - by supporting STEM Boomerang (I am a co-founder) to do research on barriers to hiring for DWS. I was impressed by the level of support for her candidacy from many Hispanics and Native Americans. The legislation she proposed this year was sensible and had broad impacts. She's a great choice for the House. I believe she will be a great advocate for all New Mexicans.

Samuel Herrera

Hispanics and Native Americans had been spited and cheated. Hispanic and Native American and their allies should sit this election out. Let the white liberals try to carry this election without us. Maybe it will remind the Democrats who they represent. Expect Stansbury to hire Hispanic and Native American spokespersons and campaign managers but she can’t put lipstick on a pig. She will find all sorts of people to act as props. Unfortunately, white privilege won this one. The people lost. Urge your legislators to pass legislation to put the power of nominating candidates with the people where it belongs.

zach miller

Dems work hard to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I have high doubts this rep will work as hard for the native population in NM as she did to get herself a nomination to run for congress.

Mike Johnson

Agreed, no doubt there at all. This one is a typical politician, out for herself, not the people.

William Nevins

As a supporter of Antoinette, I am disappointed. That said, I support the Democrat candidate in the upcoming election. I am concerned though by the little known fact that he winning candidate's campaign manager did much of the communications organizing among Bernalillo County Democratic Party nominators, and surely influenced how the nomination vote went. This is apparently legal, but it seems to me rather deceptive and shady. Politics as usual?

Mike Johnson

Anyone who thinks a small, elite, privileged group of party insiders are better than the people at selecting a candidate would most likely have enjoyed living in the USSR, Cuba, North Korea, and several other Communist/Marxist/Socialist countries.

Russell Scanlon

Stansbury seems well qualified and hardworking. Get ready for cries of “Radical Socialist” from the opposition.

Honestly I feel sorry for anyone that has to represent the GOP. Moores also seems like a decent guy but his party is so dysfunctional and toxic after 4 years of Trump that he is pulling a lot of extra weight. What has the GOP offered the American people lately? Tax breaks for the ultra wealthy? A free pass for the fossil fuel industry? Voter suppression? Oh yeah—you get to keep your assault rifles.

Mike Johnson

Her positions, from her website:"That is why I support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour." Immigration: "Families must be reunited and we must provide a path to citizenship." "That means supporting Medicare for All." "I will continue to fight to pass meaningful legislation to address climate change," "In Congress, I will continue the work to get big money out of politics, for campaign finance reform at all levels,." That last one will be amusing, let's see who pours millions into this campaign on her behalf......

Russell Scanlon

Mike I’m willing to bet that a majority, if not at least half, of Americans support those positions—as well as a woman’s right to choose and reasonable gun laws.

So what to do? Suppress voter turnout and scream “Radical Socialist” to induce Pavlovian responses.

I understand that the oil industry may not be delighted but their’s is NOT the only agenda in our country today.

Mike Johnson

Mr. Scanlon, I was not posting this to imply she is a radical socialist, obviously these positions are not, and they are quite different than some of her earlier positions in fully supporting AOC's Green New Deal, and banning all fracking and petroleum in the state. It appears this candidate is moderating and modifying her more extreme responses from earlier times, the question is, was she lying then or lying now?

Khal Spencer

The dysfunction of the GOP is why people like Mr. Moores has to run and fight for leadership positions. Or, all of the conservatives who are tired of the cult of personality have to form a new center-right party, including people like Jonah Goldberg, David French, and some other thoughtful conservatives.

A single-party state goes off the rails. As it is, the Democratic Party keeps lurching to the left and there is not a thoughtful center-right as an option, either in New Mexico or nationally.

Mike Johnson


Russell Scanlon

OK—I’m a new arrival so I will not presume to know anything about the inner workings of the local Democratic Party. And under normal circumstances, yes, a strong 2 party system is preferable.

However—someone needs to define “extreme left” to me. As I stated earlier, Ms. Stansbury’s positions on climate change, immigration, minimum wage, etc. etc. are NOT “fringe” positions. They are widely supported. Just repeating ad nauseum that they are “extremist” does not make it so. The results of the last national election clearly shows this to be the case.

Let’s do a national referendum on hot issues like gun control, abortion, clean energy, etc. I think we all know what would happen. I think we all know why the GOP is so desperately trying to smother democracy to death in Georgia and in Texas. A ruling party that does not represent the will of the majority can only survive through strongarm tactics.

Mike Johnson

Mr. Scanlon, I will direct you to the election results from 2020. Even with a complete idiot and charlatan at the head of the ticket, the GOP picked up 13 seats in the US House, and narrowly lost the Senate at 50/50. And as Brookings analysis said: "The Democrats’ popular vote margin in House races fell by more than half, from 8.6% to an estimated 3%. Given these results, Democrats did well to hold their seat loss to 13." And: "... the total vote cast for Democratic House candidates fell short of Joe Biden’s total by 3.9 million." In the states, the Ds failed to flip even one state's legislature, and Rs gained 2 more state trifectas. That is after the Ds spent over $500 million in their efforts in states. The GOP is still the majority party in the majority of states. I'm sorry, the election results of 2020 do not "clearly show" your assertion about the popularity of the left wing issues to be true. Extreme left has different meanings to different people I suspect. To me, any candidate that believes the government is better to be making decisions on your life, like what cars to drive, what power to use, your health insurance, your wages, your buying options for your life, more and bigger government involvement in all things, etc. is extreme left. I am a Democratic Capitalist, anything that diminishes and cripples capitalism (not regulates it) is extreme left.

Russell Scanlon

Well—the DEMs still control Congress and the Executive branch—in spite of the best efforts of Republicans to distort the popular will by voter suppression and gerrymandering.

The minimum wage hasn’t been raised since the 1970’s and has fallen far behind the cost of living.

The fossil fuel industry, the banking industry, and Wall Street have clearly shown that they cannot regulate themselves.

Without “government overreach” Black people would still be using separate restrooms and water fountains, and Appalachian rivers would be filled with toxic coal mine refuse.

Your belief that the “marketplace” is a benevolent force for humanity is a farce. It may have worked for you—but it hasn’t worked for millions of Americans.

The US is the only “civilized” country in the world that doesn’t provide universal healthcare to it’s citizens.

Dottie Butler

Republicans continue to express sour grapes over New Mexico going bluer and bluer, but they only have themselves to blame because they've strayed too far right and too many of them have endorsed white supremacy and fascism. It has tarred them all.

If Republicans don't start moderating to the center they will find themselves totally irrelevant and ignored by the electorate at every level of government, and then they will become extinct.

Mike Johnson

As a moderate/conservative D all my life, I don't recognize what has become of my party here in NM over the last few decades. Both parties have moved to far to the extremes, they both need to start representing the moderate middle of this country, and if not, just wait for the mid-terms when the Rs retake the House and Senate. It will happen if the Ds continue the left wig overreach that does not represent the moderate middle of this country.

zach miller

Mike you aren't centrist if you cannot acknowledge climate change as real, which you don't. Even the middle of the country can admit to themselves climate change is happening and its because of the burning of fossil fuels.

Mike Johnson

I am a Ph.D. paleoclimatologist by education, and yes "climate change" is happening, as in the climate is changing. And yes, man is responsible (CO2 is but one of many Tyndall gases, and land use and other human interactions with the earth also change temps) for some of the temperature increase (1 degree C) since 1875. But my scientific view is that these changes are not unusual, not dangerous to life on earth, and certainly not serious enough to reorder our lives, economy, and lifestyles to try and reduce temps by 1 degree or more. The earth does not have a set point temperature, or ideal temperature, as it has been varying for billions of years, as CO2 content of the atmosphere has as well.The possible temp increases in the future will not cause more harm to humans and their lives than the draconian actions suggested to stop them, a Noble Prize winning economist proved that.

Mike Johnson

This was all just party insider, elite corruption on display. You act like this was some kind of rational, logical process, like an election, surely you know better Milan. This is all corrupt politics.

John Cook

Tell us about an incident, just one, of corruption. Tell us about a vote bought or sold. Just one. Tell us about a 'corrupt' deal that was made. Just one.

Mike Johnson

Like the Mafia style organization political party insiders are, there is a code of silence. Deals made privately, stay private. You will not know until this one is elected, then the chits will come know that.

John Cook

Yes, it's just like rampant voter fraud. The fact that no one can find any is proof that it is everywhere. Sheesh. When you accuse people of fraud you should put up or.....

Khal Spencer

WhistlepigGate. As in, the Dem leadership saying "what? illicit use of government funds? I don't see a thing, now move on here". And that was after the dishonest hatchet job the Santa Fe Ring did on Carl Trujillo.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Well said Khal, and yet the attitude among the insiders continues in this state, and nobody seems to notice.....

John Cook

I thought we were talking about the central committee selection of a candidate for the CD1 special election.

Mike Johnson

Mr. Cook, if you do not recognize the corrupt, selective, elite, and closed process of central committee selection of a candidate for the CD1 special election, you are beyond rational discussions.

Khal Spencer

The closed process both parties used has been criticized as icing the rank and file out. Of course the primary system is what gave us people like Donald Trump, so that is no guarantee to be an improvement. Some have said we were better off with the smoke filled room as it gave the parties the power to give the boot ride to the charlatans and lunatics like DJT. Hence, in the (D) case, superdelegates. Of course that gave us Hillary Clinton in the great Hillary v Donald fiasco.

We get the government we deserve.

Chris Mechels

Mike, as we know, the New Mexico politics, a one party state dominated by the Democrats IS corrupt, an insider game, etc.

That said, Stansbury does seem to have a very solid background and is well suited to represent us effectively in Washington, perhaps even better than Deb.

Got to play the cards we're dealt.

Khal Spencer


Mike Johnson

Indeed Chris, much better qualified than Deb, no doubt.

Welcome to the discussion.

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