Rep. Steve Pearce, the delegation’s lone Republican, was a high-profile supporter of President Donald Trump and is in touch with the White House on a regular basis. But he’s just one politician, and he’s running for governor in 2018. We don’t yet know if a Republican or a Democrat will be elected to replace him in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.
What we do know is that this White House – like most – places a heavy emphasis on party and loyalty. Regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican occupies the White House, the president’s relationship with New Mexico is important in part because the state is so heavily dependent on the federal government. So I was encouraged to learn last week that Ryan Cangiolosi, chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, traveled to Washington and not only had lunch with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in the West Wing, he also had a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump in the Oval Office.
Cangiolosi came away from the high-level meetings with an understandable sense of excitement, reflected both in his Facebook posts about the experience and in an interview with me Friday.
The state party chairman said during the lunch with Priebus he and just a few other state party leaders talked policy and politics for almost 90 minutes.
“We shared our concerns, our hopes, our needs, our wants,” Cangiolosi recalled. “We were just talking about where New Mexico is right now economically and that we have potential for growth and moving our state forward.”
I asked the chairman if he relayed the fact that New Mexico is struggling in many ways – high crime, a stagnant economy, etc. He said he did convey that “as a state, economically, we have a potential for great growth because our unemployment is high,” and about the need to improve education and public safety.
And of course, they talked politics – a lot of politics. Cangiolosi said the White House was keenly interested in Pearce’s gubernatorial run, first reported in the Journal last week. During a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, Cangiolosi noted the president was “well aware of what happened in each state this last election cycle.”
Given the fact Trump lost New Mexico by eight points to Hillary Clinton in 2016, I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but Cangiolosi said the president voiced appreciation for Pearce.
“With Pearce (leaving office to run for governor), we have an opening in CD2 and that is definitely something that is on their radar because they want to retain the House, and that is a key thing for them,” Cangiolosi said.
“He (Trump) said ‘please let Congressman Pearce know that he has our full support’,” the chairman recalled, noting the White House also expressed interest in helping elect more Republicans to the N.M. House of Representatives. “He also asked about the Senate seat and said ‘keep us updated’.”
“The Senate seat” would be the one occupied by Democrat Martin Heinrich, who is up for re-election next year.
The chairman chuckled when I asked him what it was like to meet with the president of the United States in the Oval Office. I know because years ago, President George W. Bush gave me and a few other reporters a tour of the Oval Office after a roundtable interview. The only word I could conjure at the time was surreal. Cangiolosi concurred.
“It is completely surreal to be in the Oval Office, but to be able to meet President Trump and Vice President Pence is something I look forward to being able to share with my grandchildren one day,” Cangiolosi said.
Despite his pinch-me-is-this-real moment, the N.M. GOP chairman seemed to keep it in perspective.
“My hope is that we have a great relationship with the folks at the White House,” Cangiolosi said. “We want to have a really good dialogue with them and continue to work on things together.”
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