Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
NEW YORK – New York Republicans gave New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez a warm welcome at a high-powered political fundraiser in Manhattan on Thursday night as hundreds of protesters condemned GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump on the sidewalks outside.
Martinez, a former Doña Ana County prosecutor who is being touted as a possible vice presidential pick, was the guest of honor at the New York State Republican Committee’s annual black-tie gala at the Hyatt Grand hotel in midtown Manhattan. All three Republican presidential candidates – Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich – were also on the bill.
Martinez, the chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association and Thursday evening’s keynote speaker, declared it “amazing and exciting” to be in the same room with the presidential contenders at the outset of her speech. But she quickly sidestepped the question that has dogged her for weeks: Whom will she endorse in the presidential race?
“It’s been an incredible campaign,” Martinez said. “But you know what? Why don’t we just play rock, paper, scissors and get this thing over with? But all joking aside, I want to thank all three of you for being here tonight and for caring enough about our country to run for president.”
After the dinner, Martinez told the Journal in a brief interview that she did not meet with any of the candidates on Thursday in New York and she has no intention of endorsing any of them before New Mexico’s June 7 primary election.
“I don’t have any plans on doing so,” Martinez said. “I’m going to let the voters decide; let’s see where they take us at the convention.”
Debra Haaland, chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party, said Martinez should let New Mexicans know where she stands on the presidential candidates.
“Governor Martinez has been avoiding telling New Mexico who she’ll support for the Republican nomination for too long,” Haaland said. “While Governor Martinez is traveling across the country to promote her own agenda, New Mexicans deserve an honest answer on whether our governor stands with Donald Trump and his offensive remarks and reckless policy positions.”
Martinez spent much of the rest of her 22-minute speech discussing her upbringing and path to the Governor’s Office, touting her accomplishments while in office and critiquing President Barack Obama’s administration. The event started an hour late, and at times the governor had to speak over chatter in the banquet hall as 800 hungry Republican guests tucked into a late dinner. But the audience also applauded at multiple moments in her speech, including when she talked about prosecuting drug cartel activity in southern New Mexico.
As Martinez spoke, police stood tense watch over hundreds of protesters outside the Hyatt Grand who condemned Trump as racist, fascist and more. A lone counter-protester stood holding a sign that said “Build the Wall,” a reference to Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep immigrants out. When Trump took the stage immediately after Martinez he made no mention of her speech.
While Trump leads in the delegate count nationally, both Cruz, a Texas senator, and Kasich, an Ohio governor, are still in the race, which could lead to a contested national convention in July.
Although Martinez has declined to endorse any of the remaining candidates, she has had harsh words for Trump in the past. In July, when Trump’s candidacy was first starting to take flight nationally, Martinez condemned his assertion that many Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers.
“I think those are horrible things to say about anyone or any culture … anyone of any ethnicity,” Martinez said at the time. “I mean, that is uncalled for … completely.”
John LeBoutillier, a former New York congressman who co-hosts “Political Insiders” on FOX News, told the Journal that New York GOP Chairman Edward Cox, who is married to former President Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia, was “channelling” Nixon when he chose Martinez as the speaker for the GOP gala.
“Nixon was always intrigued with new talent,” LeBoutillier said. “Martinez is going to be on everybody’s short list for vice president, and I think it was a great choice to have her come.”
LeBoutillier also said Martinez’s speech was a tryout of sorts on the national stage.
“She’s going to be with them (the presidential candidates) at the dinner and when she speaks she’ll invariably be compared to them a little bit,” he said. “She’s auditioning in front of them for a couple of things: the upcoming primary in your state – and they are all wanting her to endorse them and put her organization behind them, and then the V.P. thing, too.”