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Trump visits New Mexico with eye to 2020

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing on Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, in Washington. Trump is en route to Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Swing state reborn or lost cause in the Southwest?

When President Donald Trump holds a rally in Rio Rancho Monday night, he will try to begin shifting New Mexico political winds that propelled Democrats to a sweep of all statewide offices on the ballot last year.

It won’t be an easy task.

Longtime New Mexico political observer Brian Sanderoff said Trump faces long odds in his attempt to win New Mexico – and its five electoral votes – in 2020, but said an upset victory is not impossible.

“I think what they’re doing is making a long-shot bid that can be done with a relatively small amount of money” due to the low cost of political advertising in New Mexico, said Sanderoff, the president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc.

He also said Trump could attempt to follow the blueprint of former President George W. Bush, a fellow Republican who claimed victory New Mexico in 2004 in part by winning a sizable portion – if not a majority – of the state’s Hispanic vote.

Top-ranking New Mexico Democrats, who plan a counter-rally before Trump’s speech at the Santa Ana Star Center, have blasted the president and insisted statewide voters will reject his message.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who took office this year, will hold an event tonight in Santa Fe honoring Deming and Luna County officials who provided aid to an influx of asylum-seeking migrants this year.

The Governor’s Office says the event was already scheduled before news of Trump’s rally, but the first-term Democrat said her administration has worked to blunt the impact of Trump initiatives, including a push to repeal the landmark Affordable Care Act.

“The president has demeaned, demonized and discriminated against Hispanics, immigrants and diverse communities every single day he has been president,” Lujan Grisham said. “Undoubtedly his remarks in Rio Rancho will be more of the same – empty, shameful rhetoric.”

“His efforts to spin otherwise on Monday won’t change the fact that he and his administration have worked overtime to hurt workers, weaken employment opportunities and exacerbate structural inequality,” Lujan Grisham added.

But state Republican Party chairman Steve Pearce said Democrats – including Lujan Grisham – overreached during this year’s 60-day legislative session, in part by pushing measures extending background check requirements for gun sales and repealing a long-dormant abortion ban.

“I think Democrats gave us a pretty big gift during the session,” said Pearce, who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year.

He also said New Mexicans, including many of the state’s Hispanic residents, are warming up to Trump and “like the paychecks they’re seeing.”

New Mexico has added roughly 29,200 private sector jobs since Trump took office in January 2017, though nearly half those jobs are in the construction and natural resource extraction industries that have benefitted from an ongoing oil drilling boom in the state’s southeast corner.

Rio Rancho prepares

Trump’s first visit to New Mexico as president is expected to draw thousands of attendees, prompt protests, and be met with a big law enforcement presence.

Rio Rancho Police Capt. Andrew Rodriguez said the state’s third-largest city has been busily preparing for the event.

“This is a large scale event, and we have asked for assistance from law enforcement agencies throughout the state and are working with them to ensure the safety of our public,” Rodriguez said.

In addition to the Rio Rancho Police Department, the Albuquerque Police Department, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police will all assist with the event.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez said protesters’ constitutional right to peaceably assemble and to engage in civil discourse will be respected, but said “there will be no tolerance for violence, the destruction of another’s property or any criminal activity.”

Trump’s two visits to Albuquerque during his campaign for president in 2016 drew huge crowds both in support and opposition.

A peaceful protest outside a Trump rally in Downtown Albuquerque in May 2016 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.

For today’s event, no alcohol or weapons will be allowed today into the Santa Ana Star Center and drone flying is also banned, said Sandoval County spokeswoman Melissa Perez.

All Rio Rancho city offices are closed Monday, in addition to police headquarters and municipal court. Rio Rancho Public Schools also called off classes for the day due to concern the heavy volume of expected traffic would disrupt student transportation. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Government Center and other Bernalillo County offices in Downtown Albuquerque will also close early in the afternoon because of the rally. The city on Sunday issued a traffic alert, saying there could be road closures and backups in the general travel area between the Albuquerque Sunport and the Santa Ana Star Center.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico announced Friday it planned to “welcome” Trump to New Mexico with digital billboards featuring messages such as “No Bans. No walls. No hate in our state.”

The ACLU has filed more than 200 lawsuits nationwide against Trump administration policies.

Political capital

New Mexico is one of several states that Trump’s campaign is hoping to flip next year – others include Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire – to bolster his reelection bid.

Designating New Mexico as a target state could mean additional visits from Trump and high-profile supporters, elevated spending on political advertisements and a ramped-up staff presence in the state.

However, Sanderoff also said Trump’s visit to New Mexico represents a political risk of sorts, as it could galvanize Democrats in a state where Democrats hold a sizable voter registration edge over Republicans.

As of last month, there were 573,906 registered Democrats in New Mexico – or about 45.6% of all voters – and about 379,935 registered Republicans, who made up 30.2% of registered voters. The remaining voters were affiliated with other political parties or declined to state a political affiliation.

“Simple math tells you Trump has to get a majority of independents and at least some Democrats to have a chance to win,” Sanderoff told the Journal. “It’s going to be an uphill battle in New Mexico.”

Despite the long odds, state GOP chairman Pearce said he has been in communication with Trump’s campaign team since January, trying to make the case for targeting New Mexico.

The Trump campaign appears warm to the idea, as in addition to the president’s rally, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale and his son, Donald Trump Jr., will also hold events in the Albuquerque area this week.

Part of Trump’s challenge in New Mexico will be making inroads with Hispanics, who made up 49% of the state’s population as of July 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, pointed out Trump’s visit will take place on Mexican Independence Day and said New Mexicans are proud of the state’s multicultural heritage.

“I take it as a personal affront that you have chosen this day to bring your brand of bigoted, racist hatred to our state,” Lopez said in a statement.

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.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won New Mexico in 2016, defeating Trump by 8 percentage points despite not holding any public campaign events in the state. Former state Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, got about 9% of the statewide vote in that year’s race.

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