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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
RIO RANCHO – In his first visit to New Mexico since winning the White House, President Donald Trump Monday night pledged to “campaign for every vote” and defy political pundits by adding the state to his win column in 2020.
During a rally at the Santa Ana Star Center attended by an estimated 9,000 people, Trump touted an oil drilling boom in southeast New Mexico that has driven state revenue levels to an all-time high and cited a spike in business applications statewide before asking the crowd to “give me a little bit more time.”
“The Democrats want to completely annihilate New Mexico’s economy,” he said. “But … New Mexico will never give them the chance.”
Last year, Democrats swept all statewide offices on the ballot in New Mexico and the state currently has all-Democratic congressional delegation.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Monday her administration has actually done more to help New Mexico workers and families than Trump’s administration has, by signing legislation to increase the state’s $7.50 per hour minimum wage and increase renewable energy requirements.
But Trump said Monday the country already has the “cleanest air we’ve ever had” and said the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan to combat climate change, will take cows, airplanes and cars away.
“A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for radical socialism and the destruction of the American Dream,” Trump said.
During Monday’s rally, at least two protesters were escorted from the arena to a chorus of boos.
“Good night,” Trump said, waving as one protester was escorted away. “The media will say mass protests.”
While Trump’s visit prompted protests and a Democratic rally in Albuquerque, there did not appear to be major disturbances or rioting.
In May 2016, a calm protest outside Trump’s rally in Downtown Albuquerque erupted into fiery violence as protesters jumped on police cars, smashed windows, and fought with Trump supporters and police.
Seeking Hispanic support
Trump’s New Mexico gamble hinges in large part on support from Hispanics, who made up 49% of the state’s population as of July 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
During his 95-minute speech Monday evening, Trump claimed many Hispanic voters support his policies for ramped-up border security and the construction of a new border wall.
“We love the Hispanics,” Trump said at one point, asserting without citing evidence that he enjoys broad support among Venezuelans and Cubans.
He also said top New Mexico Democrats “want to make your whole state a sanctuary state,” although legislation that would have barred state agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities stalled in the Democratic-controlled Legislature during this year’s 60-day session.
But the crowd at the Santa Ana Star Center vociferously applauded Trump’s remarks, at one point chanting “Build that wall!” and, later, “Four more years!”
The Trump campaign said it decided to come to New Mexico, in part, because it sees an opportunity with Hispanic voters.
“When we were at the (president’s) El Paso rally, we saw that a lot of people registered were from New Mexico,” Trump Campaign Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. “We see that there’s something going on in New Mexico with the Hispanic community. We’ve seen at least five polls showing significant support for the president from Latino voters, of which there is a high percentage in the state. We think we have a significant opportunity to grow the base in New Mexico.”
NM reelection team
Trump’s Rio Rancho rally marked the first presidential visit to New Mexico since 2016, when then-President Barack Obama toured the Carlsbad Caverns National Park with his family.
Trump arrived on Air Force One at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque shortly before 6:15 p.m. and was greeted by cheers when he walked off the plane.
The welcoming committee did not include any statewide officials or Albuquerque city leaders, many of whom attended a Democratic rally protesting Trump.
Those who greeted Trump included military families, Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull, House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizor, Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block and Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin.
Some people greeted the president’s motorcade with American flags and thumbs-up signs, while others took pictures as it passed. But the motorcade was also greeted by a “No one loves Trump” overpass sign.
Trump was expected to stay the night in Albuquerque at an undisclosed hotel, and head to California in the morning.
While Trump’s visit to New Mexico was brief, his campaign hopes to put down stakes in the state.
Trump’s campaign also announced Monday the creation of a New Mexico reelection team for 2020, with Arizona Republican Party executive director Leslie White to serve as Trump’s state director.
House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, and former state Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage of Kirtland will be the Trump campaign’s honorary state chairs.
“We’re here because we really think we’re going to turn this state and make it a Republican state,” Trump said.
‘A praying president’
In addition to the estimated 9,000 people that packed the Star Center for Trump’s speech, thousands more stood outside watching the speech on a jumbo screen.
Supporters eagerly awaited his arrival in Rio Rancho, many of them showing up hours before the doors at the Star Center even opened.
Jeff Brown and his family marched with flags showing their staunch support for Trump hours before Air Force One touched down. Jennifer Harrison of Phoenix carried a large Trump banner.
Meanwhile, Trump supporters Edward Morgan of Albuquerque and Edward Morfin of Santa Fe argued with protesters Antoinette Olivas of Albuquerque and Tom Robinson of Rio Rancho.
Mike Huddleston of Aztec said he and his wife support the president because of “his common sense.”
“He’s done what he said he would do,” he said. “He would do more if the Democrats would work with him.”
Rory Cheney of Rio Rancho echoed those sentiments.
“All the Democrats do is oppose, no legislation,” he said. “He would have more control of the border if they would work with him. He’s got the economy going great. He’s fighting for the United States instead of every other country.”
Greg Swardson of Albuquerque said he’s for Trump “because he’s a praying president.”
“I like him because he’s got Mexico to build asylum facilities,” he said. “He’s also pushing the USMCA (United States Mexico Canada Agreement), which will be good for the country.”
Counter rallies were also taking place in the metro, including one in a designated area near the Star Center that drew close to 200 people.
The group chanted sporadically “not my president” and “What do we want? Impeachment! When do we want it? Now!”
Several State Police officers lined the sidewalk nearby.
NM jobs down by 4,000
There are still more than 13 months until next year’s general election, but longtime New Mexico political observers say Trump faces long odds in trying to win the state – and its five electoral votes.
The Democratic Party is not expected to settle on its presidential nominee until early next year – or perhaps not until summer – but Trump spent time Monday jabbing several candidates.
He also adopted his familiar populist tone, criticizing past presidents for not taking on China and saying, “It’s time to finally take care of our own.”
However, some of Trump’s claims were debatable.
At one point, Trump said, “We’re pouring a lot of money into New Mexico,” citing spending at New Mexico’s two national laboratories and military installations.
But the Trump administration recently drew criticism for diverting $125 million from New Mexico military base projects for construction of a new border wall.
Since Trump took office in January 2017, New Mexico has added roughly 29,200 private sector jobs – a 4.6% increase. Nearly half of those jobs are in the construction and natural resource extraction industries that have benefitted from the oil drilling boom.
However, the number of New Mexico jobs in the trade industry – including retail and wholesale trade – has actually gone down by about 4,000 jobs since Trump became president, according to state Department of Workforce Solutions data.
Journal staff writers Celia Raney, Matthew Reisen, Katy Barnitz and Shelby Perea contributed to this report.