Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – It’s been a rough several years for New Mexico Republicans.
But top GOP state lawmakers are optimistic that President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the state – and his pledge to run an active campaign in the Land of Enchantment – could bolster their 2020 prospects and put Democrats on the defensive.
“He’s going to be bringing a lot of money into the state,” said House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, who was part of the official welcoming committee that greeted Trump at Kirtland Air Force Base on Monday before the president’s campaign rally in Rio Rancho.
Already, the state Republican Party raised $327,000 from a fundraiser in Bosque featuring the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., that was held just days after the president’s rally, a party spokesman said Friday.
However, turning New Mexico red next year won’t be an easy paint job.
Democrats swept all statewide races on the ballot last year and expanded their majority in the state House by eight seats. Democrat Xochitl Torres Small also won a traditionally GOP-leaning congressional district in southern New Mexico and is part of the state’s all-Democratic delegation in Washington.
While statewide offices will not be up for election next year, all three of the state’s U.S. House seats will be on the ballot – including Torres Small’s district – along with a race for an open U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Tom Udall, who is not seeking re-election.
In addition, all 112 legislative seats will be up for election in 2020.
Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor at University of New Mexico, said turnout levels in some Republican strongholds lagged behind turnout in heavily Democratic areas in last year’s general election.
But even higher turnout levels might not automatically improve Republicans’ 2020 chances, as Atkeson cited a survey of New Mexico voters conducted after the 2018 general election that found 52% strongly disapproved of Trump.
“That is not a winning presidential election approval rating,” Atkeson told the Journal.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who helped engineer Democrats’ retaking of the House in 2016, said Trump’s targeting of New Mexico could motivate Democrats not to take next year’s election cycle for granted despite their recent successes.
“We always take seriously any effort made by a Republican president to target New Mexico,” Egolf told the Journal. “We are prepared to run a robust campaign and fight for every vote.”
He also said Democrats are delivering on their campaign promises, including diversifying the state’s economy and responsibly addressing climate change issues. Some first-term House Democrats are already starting door-knocking efforts for next year’s election cycle, he added.
“We may be outspent as Democrats, but we’ll never be outworked,” Egolf said.
However, House GOP whip Montoya said Trump’s high-profile platform could be used to highlight differences between Republican-backed policies – on taxes, renewable energy and other issues – and those pushed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who will not be up for re-election next year.
Trump hammered on some of those points during his Rio Rancho rally, which drew an estimated crowd of about 9,000 people, saying that Democrats want to “annihilate” the state’s economy by adopting new green energy policies.
The president also claimed many Hispanic voters support his policies for ramped-up border security and the construction of a new border wall.
In the days after the event, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman claimed on Twitter that 31% of those who registered for the Rio Rancho rally were Democrats, though she did not provide records to back up that claim.
While some have suggested Trump’s New Mexico strategy might be a ruse, Montoya said Trump assured him during their chat on the airport tarmac that his interest in the state – and its five electoral votes – is genuine.
Their brief discussion did not go into specifics, Montoya said, but the president made one thing clear: “He said that he was committed to winning New Mexico.”