The cowboy hats far outnumbered the “Make America Great Again” caps on Saturday as hundreds of New Mexico Republicans gathered for their pre-primary convention.
But there was plenty of enthusiastic support for President Donald Trump – whose name drew cheers as several candidates pledged to support building a wall along the border with Mexico.
“I’ve been on that Trump train since Day 1 of his announcement,” state Rep. Yvette Herrell said Saturday as she addressed the audience of about 650 at the Embassy Suites hotel in Albuquerque.
It turned out to be a good day for the seven-year lawmaker from Alamogordo. Herrell won 58 percent of the delegates in the 2nd Congressional District, meaning her name will appear first on primary election ballots June 5.
She is one of five candidates campaigning for the Republican nomination to succeed U.S. Rep Steve Pearce in Congress. Pearce is running for governor rather than seek re-election to the House.
Monty Newman, a former Hobbs mayor and former state GOP chairman, finished second on Saturday, with support from about 26 percent of the delegates.
He has proven to be a strong fundraiser, however, and leads the 2nd Congressional District candidates with the most cash on hand, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Newman said after the convention that he was focused on the electorate at large, not a “symbolic victory among insiders.”
The three other candidates in the race fell below the 20 percent threshold required to win an automatic spot on the ballot Saturday, but they may all make it anyway. Each candidate either already has or is expected to gather enough petition signatures to appear on the ballot.
Gavin Clarkson, a Las Cruces professor who served in the Trump administration, won about 12 percent of the vote Saturday; former Eddy County Commissioner Jack Volpato of Carlsbad had 3 percent; and Lovington resident Clayburn Griffin, who works in digital marketing, had 1 percent.
Former House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, introduced Herrell on Saturday, praising her integrity and conservative values.
The 2nd Congressional District was the only contested race at Saturday’s convention.
But the event was a chance for state Republicans to build enthusiasm and cheer one another on as they head into what could be a tough election season. The party that controls the White House – Republicans, in this case – tends to lose ground during midterm elections.
Pearce made it a point of urging Republicans to talk to Democrats to build support for GOP candidates – critical in a state where Democrats hold a substantial edge in voter registration.
He highlighted Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura as a recent example of Republicans’ success at the statewide level. In 2016, Nakamura became the first Republican to be elected to a seat on the court in over 30 years.
Pearce suggested that conservative and moderate Democrats in New Mexico will want a Republican governor to serve as a check on Democrats in the state Legislature. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez can’t run this year because of term limits, and she has repeatedly clashed over the years with the Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate.
Pearce also spoke about being on the field when shots rang out as a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in Washington, D.C., last year.
In a video message, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican injured in the shooting, spoke in support of Pearce’s campaign for governor.
“We’re in a very different time for American politics,” Pearce told the crowd afterward. “This a time for proven leadership.”