Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – President Donald Trump won’t appear on the ballot this year – in New Mexico or anywhere else.
But that’s not stopping New Mexico Democrats from targeting the Republican president and his policies in TV ads and other campaign materials in the build-up to the June 5 primary election.
In one campaign ad, Albuquerque congressional candidate Damon Martinez portrays a character on “The Apprentice,” a reality television show popularized by Trump, whose administration asked Martinez and 45 other U.S. attorneys to resign in March 2017.
“When I’m in Congress, you’re next to get fired,” Martinez tells Trump in the ad.
Another candidate running in the six-way primary race, former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland, also invokes Trump in her latest TV ad, with a campaign supporter describing her as “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.”
And the Trump targeting isn’t limited to congressional candidates.
In his recent ad, Democratic state auditor candidate Bill McCamley of Las Cruces wields a sledgehammer to batter a wall, which he goes on to describe as Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border.
“Let’s use every tool in our toolbox to knock down Donald Trump’s hateful and wasteful wall,” McCamley says in the 30-second spot.
While it’s unclear what role, if any, the state auditor might have in authorizing or overseeing the building of a barrier along the border, McCamley cites a bill he co-sponsored as a legislator that sought to bar state trust lands from being used in construction of such a wall.
Democratic land commissioner candidate Garrett VeneKlasen has also gotten in on the Trump jabs, saying in an online campaign video that Trump should keep his “tiny little hands” off New Mexico’s public lands.
In a primary election cycle in which Democratic candidates in crowded races are trying to appeal to party loyalists, taking aim at a Republican president who is deeply unpopular among most Democrats makes sense, said University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez.
“It almost seems they’re trying to outdo each other in stating their opposition to Trump,” Sanchez told the Journal. “And electorally, I don’t see a lot of risk associated with that strategy.”
However, Sanchez cautioned that there is a risk that Democrats for state-level office could be portrayed as “out of touch” if they base too much of their candidacies on opposition to Trump.
He also said playing the Trump card is not unique to New Mexico, since many other Democratic candidates around the nation are also attacking the president and his policies in their campaigns.
Opposition to Trump is nothing new in New Mexico, though some state voters fervently back the president.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by about 8 percentage points in the state’s 2016 general election, although Trump held two campaign rallies in Albuquerque and Clinton did not hold any public event in New Mexico.
While many state Republicans back Trump, there are exceptions.
For instance, a Santa Fe County Republican Party official was removed from his post in 2015 for organizing an anti-Trump piñata event on the capital city’s historic downtown plaza.
But in the only contested statewide or congressional Republican primary race in New Mexico, GOP candidates running for the southern New Mexico-based 2nd Congressional District seat have largely embraced Trump and his policies.
State Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo, in a campaign ad she launched last week, describes herself twice during the 30-second spot as a “Trump conservative,” with a narrator saying she would be on the president’s team.
Another candidate in the four-way race, former state Republican Party Chairman Monty Newman of Hobbs, kept his distance a bit more in a recent campaign spot of his own, but said he would “stand with the president” on issues including immigration and defense spending.