Vice president visits NM to campaign for Lujan Grisham - Albuquerque Journal

Vice president visits NM to campaign for Lujan Grisham

Vice President Kamala Harris at Kirtland Air Force Base on Tuesday. ( Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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With Election Day just two weeks away, Vice President Kamala Harris made a quick visit to Albuquerque on Tuesday to bolster Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s reelection bid and tout New Mexico’s status as an abortion sanctuary.

During a private fundraiser and moderated discussion at the University of New Mexico, the nation’s first female vice president, a Democrat, described Lujan Grisham as a key ally to President Joe Biden’s administration.

But she focused much of her remarks on abortion and reproductive rights, saying the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision has caused widespread fear among women and led to a national checkerboard of laws.

“This is about freedom and liberty – fundamental principles on which our country was founded that are under attack right now,” Harris said.

The vice president’s short visit – she arrived on Air Force Two at Kirtland Air Force Base just after noon and left for Seattle at 4:30 p.m. – shut down some major Albuquerque streets Tuesday afternoon.

But there were no arrests or disturbances reported, according to an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman.

Meanwhile, the vice president’s visit comes as Lujan Grisham is locked in a bruising race for governor against Republican Mark Ronchetti, who outraised the Democratic incumbent in a recent fundraising period and has launched an aggressive TV ad campaign against her.

During the vice president’s visit, the Ronchetti campaign set up a mobile billboard outside the UNM venue where she was speaking. The billboard featured headlines from a story about a settlement Lujan Grisham’s campaign entered into with former campaign spokesman James Hallinan, who in 2019 accused the governor of sexual misconduct.

“Kamala Harris and her D.C. policies are failing New Mexicans,” Ronchetti spokesman Ryan Sabel said. “We feel it every day in higher prices and soft on crime policies.”

“It comes as a surprise to no one that Harris is here today to bail out her friend, the governor who pursues the same policies, leaving New Mexicans broke and scared,” he added.

But Lujan Grisham has defended her record, while also criticizing Ronchetti’s lack of political experience.

She touted some of her administration’s accomplishments during her first four years as governor at a Tuesday fundraiser, including expanded child care assistance and a free-tuition college program underpinned by a state revenue windfall.

“The rest of the country is trying to figure out cradle-to-career education,” Lujan Grisham said. “We did it – it’s done.”

Vice President Kamala Harris lands at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque on Tuesday. Harris is in New Mexico to take part in a fundraiser, then she will participate in a conversation on reproductive rights with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other state officials at the University of New Mexico. ( Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Private fundraiser

The vice president’s visit marked the highest-profile national political figure to stump for Lujan Grisham, who has reported raising more than $11 million for her reelection bid.

The vice president, who officiated Lujan Grisham’s wedding in May in Washington, D.C., said she traveled to New Mexico specifically to support the governor.

She spoke for about 20 minutes at the private fundraiser attended by about 100 people, including Democratic legislators and several prominent lobbyists. The event was held at the Northeast Heights home of Rudy and Michelle Guzman.

During her remarks, Harris said there was much at stake in this year’s election cycle.

“The work we’re doing will not be real if it doesn’t hit the streets … and your governor is a key ingredient in making that happen,” the vice president said.

She also said Lujan Grisham had been a key voice in Biden administration efforts to lower health care costs and expand a child tax credit.

For his part, Ronchetti has also gotten support from national Republicans during this year’s election cycle, with three GOP governors – Doug Ducey of Arizona, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia – traveling to New Mexico for campaign events.

Vice President Kamala Harris uses a map to talk about states where abortion rights are protected. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Reproductive rights

After the private fundraiser, the vice president traveled to UNM, where some curious students took cellphone videos of the passing motorcade.

During a 40-minute discussion on reproductive rights with Lujan Grisham and Dr. Eve Espey, the chairwoman of UNM’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harris accused anti-abortion advocates who don’t support expanded health care benefits for low-income mothers of hypocrisy.

She also sought to portray abortion as a moral issue, saying, “One does not have to abandon their faith or their deeply-held beliefs to agree the government should not be making that decision for her.”

About 300 people attended Tuesday’s event, including Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury and U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján.

The vice president has also traveled to California, Minnesota, Connecticut and Texas this month to take part in similar abortion-focused discussions, according to a White House official.

It was the first vice presidential visit to New Mexico since Republican Mike Pence traveled to Artesia in 2019 to speak about international trade.

Abortion has emerged as a key issue in New Mexico’s race for governor this year, with both candidates – along with outside groups – launching TV ads on the issue.

Ronchetti has proposed banning abortion at 15 weeks, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when a mother’s life is at risk. But he has also proposed letting statewide voters decide the issue via a constitutional amendment that would also require legislative approval.

Lujan Grisham, for her part, signed into law a 2021 bill that repealed a long-dormant abortion ban. As a result, New Mexico currently does not have any restrictions on abortion, though access to abortion is not explicitly guaranteed either.

With some states, including Texas, having subsequently enacted abortion bans, New Mexico has seen an uptick in out-of-state residents traveling here to seek abortion services.

Given that backdrop, the governor has also signed an executive order aimed at shielding abortion providers and those seeking abortion services from criminal charges. She also pledged $10 million in state funds to build a reproductive health clinic providing abortion services in Doña Ana County.

“This is an incredibly critical time in all of our lives,” Lujan Grisham said Tuesday.

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