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Is New Mexico ‘in play’ in 2020 presidential race?

Brad Parscale, manager of President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, waits for Trump to take the stage at a rally at Resch Center Complex in Green Bay, Wis., on Saturday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – President Donald Trump’s campaign manager’s recent assertion that New Mexico is “in play” for 2020 has prompted head-scratching in a state where Republicans suffered heavy defeats just last year.

Only 38 percent of New Mexico voters approved of the job Trump was doing as president, according to a Journal Poll conducted last fall, and a Trump victory next year would likely require him to win over some Democrats and independent voters in a state where Democrats hold a sizable voter registration edge over Republicans.

“Things can always happen, but I wouldn’t expect that,” said University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson, who pointed out more than half of state voters surveyed disapprove of the job Trump is doing.

Although New Mexico has voted for Republicans in the past, the state has voted for Democratic presidential candidates in each of the past three presidential election years – 2008, 2012 and 2016.

The last Republican candidate to win New Mexico was George W. Bush, in 2004.

However, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale cited New Mexico as one of several states – along with Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire – that Trump lost in 2016 that could be flipped next year.

“Those are states we did not win in 2016 that I think are open for 2020,” Parscale said in an appearance Sunday on “Face the Nation,” during which he also acknowledged the Trump campaign will have to defend 2016 victories in battleground states including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The inclusion of New Mexico on the list of targeted states could signal that Trump will return to New Mexico next year on the campaign trail.

Trump made two appearances in New Mexico in the run-up to the general election three years ago, including a May 2016 campaign rally in Downtown Albuquerque that drew roughly 8,000 people and prompted both peaceful protests and late-night violence.

His running mate, Vice President Mike Pence, also stumped for Trump in New Mexico in 2016, making campaign stops in Albuquerque and Roswell.

In contrast, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton did not hold any public campaign events in the state, although she did travel to New Mexico for a closed-door fundraiser in June 2015 before securing the party’s nomination.

But Clinton still won New Mexico – and its five electoral votes – by defeating Trump in 2016 by about 8 percentage points. In that year’s race former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, running as a Libertarian, received more than 9 percent of the total votes cast in New Mexico.

New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said Monday that he believes the GOP will have an opening for a breakthrough next year, due to improving economic conditions for workers and a perceived overreach by the Democratic-controlled Legislature on gun-related proposals.

“That’s one of our goals, is to win the state for our president – and we think that’s a reachable goal,” Pearce told the Journal. “They are definitely going to spend resources here.”

Last year, Democrats swept all statewide offices up for election – including the Governor’s Office – and expanded their majority in the Legislature.

The state’s congressional delegation is now made up entirely of Democrats – the first time that’s been the case since 2011 – and top state Democrats say New Mexico will stay blue regardless of who Democrats end up picking as their presidential nominee next year.

“Donald Trump promised to bring back jobs, but instead he’s trying to steal from our military bases to pay for his wall. It’s no surprise many New Mexicans who voted for Trump in 2016 came out in droves to support Democrats in 2018,” state Democratic Party Chairwoman Marg Elliston said Monday.