Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Donald Trump is coming back to New Mexico – three years after being greeted with big crowds and raucous protests during two Albuquerque campaign stops.
In his first visit to New Mexico as president, Trump will hold a campaign rally at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho on Sept. 16 – or more than 13 months before next year’s Election Day.
The event will likely put the national political spotlight on New Mexico – if just for a day – and could prompt large-scale protests like the ones that took place in 2016.
Trump’s campaign has asserted New Mexico could be “in play” for 2020 – though Trump lost the state in 2016 – and a senior campaign official reportedly said the president will highlight the state’s improving economy during his Rio Rancho rally.
“We have seen an economic boom in New Mexico since President Trump took office,” Michael Glassner, the chief operating officer of the Trump campaign, told The Hill newspaper.
He also cited New Mexico’s job growth under Trump – the state added nearly 20,000 non-farm jobs from July 2018 through this July – and said the president looked forward to “celebrating those successes” with New Mexicans.
However, Marg Elliston, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said Trump won’t find support in New Mexico for his “un-American agenda.”
“This president has built his administration on hateful policies and false promises,” she said. “Since the beginning of his campaign, he has been focused on attacking and demonizing many of the hardworking communities that make New Mexico so strong.”
Trump’s previous campaign visits to New Mexico have drawn large crowds – both in support and opposition.
In 2016, a peaceful protest outside a Trump rally in Downtown Albuquerque devolved into fiery violence as the night went on. Protesters jumped on police cars, smashed windows and fought with Trump supporters and police. Some people threw burning T-shirts and bottles at police.
There were racist taunts and insults as supporters and protesters mixed.
The campaign stop, which drew a crowd of roughly 8,000 people, also featured Trump blasting then-Gov. Susana Martinez, a fellow Republican, saying she had to do a better job as governor.
Martinez didn’t attend the rally and later responded that she wouldn’t be “bullied” into endorsing a presidential candidate.
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign manager’s assertion that New Mexico is one of several states that could be “in play” for 2020 despite not voting for Trump in 2016 – along with Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire – has been met with cynicism by longtime state political observers.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won New Mexico’s five electoral votes in 2016, defeating Trump by 8 percentage points despite not holding any public campaign events in the state.
In addition, 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.
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.
New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said state GOP leaders were excited about Trump’s visit and vision for winning New Mexico next year.
“We believe that New Mexicans are fed up with the socialist left agenda and are ready to stand with the president as he continues to lower taxes, create jobs, increase pay and employment opportunities for women, minorities and those who traditionally struggle to find good jobs,” said Pearce, a former congressman who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year.
New Mexico is one of the few states that Trump has not traveled to as president, though that will change with his Rio Rancho rally – which is scheduled to take place on the same day as Mexican Independence Day.
The Santa Ana Star Center has a capacity of roughly 6,000 to 7,500 people, depending on the event.