Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
WASHINGTON – New Mexico delegates to the Republican National Convention arrive in Cleveland today united – at least for the most part – behind presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and eager to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton after a long and divisive presidential primary campaign.
New Mexico’s Republican Party is sending 24 delegates and 21 alternates to the convention, which starts Monday at Quicken Loans Arena – commonly referred to as The Q – in downtown Cleveland. In between the gaveling in of the convention on Monday afternoon and Trump’s expected nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night, delegates will attend speakers’ breakfasts, policy luncheons and late-night parties featuring marquee musical acts such as Kid Rock and Martina McBride.
Republicans are set to convene at a time when Trump is surging in national polls after lagging behind Clinton for much of the summer.
Nervous Senate Democrats voiced concern with Clinton at a meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, as they pointed to recent polls showing Trump leading or tied with the former secretary of state in several battleground states, including Florida and Ohio. And that despite the fact that Trump has spent little money on advertising, while Clinton has spent millions.
A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak tracking poll, a new survey that began publication Friday, showed Trump with a narrow lead over Clinton nationally, a significant development considering she has led in virtually every poll since May. The dip in support for Clinton coincides with FBI Director James B. Comey’s criticism this month of her handling of classified data while she was secretary of state as “extremely careless.”
Debbie Maestas, chairwoman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, told the Journal that, although some of the state’s delegates preferred other GOP presidential candidates to Trump during the hard-fought nominating process, she is confident that the delegation is now firmly united behind the New York real estate magnate.
“I’m proud of the New Mexico delegation. I really believe we have a delegation that wants to unify,” Maestas told the Journal . “I can’t speak for every delegate, but, as for the majority, they want to support our nominee and all work together. We have a nominee that gives us the opportunity to actually restore leadership and put the country back in the right direction.”
The Republican National Convention is scheduled to end Thursday evening with the party’s official nomination of Trump, a first-time political candidate known for his shoot-from-hip rhetoric and pledge to “make America great again.”
At least that’s the plan.
Some anti-Trump Republicans were still holding out hope earlier this month that delegates obligated to cast ballots for Trump under party rules could be “unbound” as a part of the convention’s rule-making process and allowed to vote for another candidate. But the convention’s rules committee appeared to scuttle that effort Thursday night when a so-called conscience clause to free delegates could not get the 28 votes needed to give the effort more momentum.
However, some anti-Trump delegates vowed to keep pressing the issue when the convention convenes on Monday.
Most analysts said Friday that the potential Trump rebellion is over for all practical purposes.
Rep. Steve Pearce, a New Mexico Republican who sits on the rules committee, said he opposed dumping Trump, who clobbered other Republican candidates in most of the caucuses and primaries, which ended in June.
“Don’t mess with the rules,” Pearce said. “Don’t make it a rigged game. Everybody is sick of rigged games. I’m just saying, let the people speak and then we go do what the people say. When we start thinking we’re smarter than the voters, we can get in real trouble.”
Many prominent Republicans, including former President George W. Bush, former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and others, are skipping the convention in Cleveland because of differences with Trump over immigration and other issues.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, will attend the convention, but does not have a speaking role, as she did at the 2012 GOP convention. She has not publicly endorsed Trump. During the campaign, Trump has made disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants, describing some of them as rapists and criminals. Martinez strongly denounced the remarks and skipped a Trump rally in May in Albuquerque – at which Trump blasted her performance as governor.
“The convention is an opportunity for the governor to tout the reforms we’re making in our state and promote New Mexico, while at the same time discussing ideas and policies with leaders across the country,” said Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez. “She was elected the chairwoman of the New Mexico delegation and, as the RGA chairwoman, she will also hold a series of meetings with governors and leaders from all around the nation.”
Cecilia Martinez Salazar, an alternate Republican delegate from Española, has attended every GOP convention since 1984. Salazar said she initially preferred that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio win the GOP nomination. But now she is backing Trump without hesitation “because he won the nomination.”
Salazar also said that, although Trump’s remarks about Hispanics were over the top, they resonated with some New Mexico Hispanics.
“We’ve been here for generations, and we don’t like what’s happening with immigration,” Salazar said. “We don’t like people living here illegally and taking advantage of the system. They are not all rapists and drug addicts … but there is a lot of anger among the Hispanics about it.”
Jason Perry, a delegate from Roswell who is chairman of the Chaves County Republican Party, said he’s excited to attend his first convention and hopeful that the party comes out of Cleveland committed to get to work for Trump’s campaign.
“Best-case scenario would be that all of the people in the Republican Party come together and we recognize that the Republican Party has spoken – and not just spoken, but spoken loudly – about a desire for change and going back to what once made America great,” Perry said. “My hope is we all become unified and move forward with a vision of defeating Hillary Clinton.”
Lisa Shin, a Los Alamos optometrist and convention delegate, said Trump is a breath of fresh air compared with Clinton, who has been dogged by scandals, including serious questions about her use of private email servers while she was secretary of state and controversy over foreign interests donating to the Clinton Foundation, established by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
“She’s just had a litany of scandals,” Shin said. “It represents so much corruption and cronyism and special interests. She represents everything that is wrong about politics – that the laws don’t apply equally.”
Shin said Trump is an “American success story” who would bring new ideas about trade and job creation.
“I’m very supportive of his candidacy,” Shin said. “I think he has more to offer and has a better plan for America than Hillary Clinton. I think we need to fight for him, because we do believe Hillary is dangerous to what American is about.”
Not surprisingly, New Mexico Democratic Chairwoman Deb Haaland had a different perspective. She characterized the Republican Party platform, which last week was written to include a plank that opposes same-sex marriage, as divisive and outdated. Haaland also pointed out that Trump reportedly struggled to attract high-profile, mainstream Republicans to speak for him in Cleveland.
“I don’t think it bodes well for the Republican Party at all,” Haaland said. “There’s a void of leadership. A lot of people have declined to speak and, normally, a lot of people would be vying to speak. It looks like a quagmire.”
The Democratic National Convention begins on July 25 in Philadelphia.