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NM delegates confident about unity at convention

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

WASHINGTON – New Mexico’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week hope to help draw a stark contrast between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, who accepted his party’s nomination Thursday night in Cleveland.

Most of New Mexico’s delegates arrive in Philadelphia today excited about Clinton’s campaign. But roughly half of them supported Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in New Mexico’s hard-fought Democratic primary election and they’re relieved that the platform addresses some of Sanders’ key issues.

Debra Haaland, chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party, said she’s “not worried” that Democrats will be divided in Philadelphia. She said the whole point of the convention is unification and motivation to help elect Democrats to the presidency and other offices around the country.

“The general purpose is to inspire people, and get them to go out and work for Democratic candidates and make sure they’ll win in November,” Haaland said. “If everyone does their jobs right, we’ll leave ready to get to work in our respective states.

“I’m not worried at all that we’re not going to come together.”

Democrats convene in Philadelphia starting Monday, just a few days after Republicans finished their four-day convention in Cleveland. The Cleveland event was widely considered a logistical success as police and organizers managed to keep the peace, despite some street protests of Trump’s candidacy.

Trump delegates – with the help of unanimous support of those from New Mexico – staved off an effort within the party to dump Trump in Cleveland, and the New York real estate tycoon enjoyed sustained applause during his acceptance speech Thursday.

A ‘kinder, gentler’ convention

As the Democratic convention begins, national polls show the Clinton-Trump matchup tightening across the nation. A Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll published Saturday had the race dead even. Clinton announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine, a moderate Democrat from Virginia, as her running mate.

At least two New Mexico Democrats – Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján – will have speaking roles at the convention in Philadelphia. Lujan Grisham told the Journal on Friday that her speech will focus on Clinton’s agenda for women. If elected, Clinton would be the first female president in American history.

Lujan Grisham said Clinton’s broad political experience as a first lady, U.S. senator from New York and secretary of state under President Barack Obama makes her vastly more qualified for the presidency than Trump.

“She’s been on Capitol Hill, she’s got relationships with governors and legislative bodies and experts in a variety of fields, and she’s got relationships with elected and appointed leaders abroad,” Lujan Grisham said. “And then you’ve got Trump, who’s saying we should be isolated.”

Former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, a delegate for Hillary Clinton, said she believes the tone for the convention will be set on the opening night, when Sanders delivers a prime-time speech.

“I expect it to be a kinder, gentler, more substantive convention,” Denish said, comparing it with the just-completed Republican event in Cleveland.

Denish said Sanders’ recent endorsement of Clinton should help sway many of his backers to Clinton’s camp. In New Mexico’s Democratic primary election in June, Clinton narrowly defeated Sanders, with 51.5 percent of the ballots cast.

Clinton arrives in Philadelphia suffering from a deficit of trust among many Americans, including some Democrats, because of her admittedly reckless handling of state information transmitted over private email servers and accounts. Clinton’s response to a crisis in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed at the hands of Islamic radicals in 2012 when she was secretary of state, has raised questions about her judgment on national security matters.

State delegation signs are seen on the convention floor as preparations continue Saturday for the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

State delegation signs are seen on the convention floor as preparations continue Saturday for the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Former New Mexico House Speaker Raymond Sanchez, a delegate to the convention in Philadelphia, said he has known Clinton since before her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was first elected to the White House in 1992. Sanchez said he has no doubts about Clinton’s integrity or judgment and he said he hopes Clinton will address such matters head-on.

“I think you overcome that by being frank with the American public, and I think she has started to clear the air,” Sanchez said, adding that he thinks controversies about her use of private email accounts and her role in the Benghazi massacre have been blown out of proportion by Republicans for political gain. “A lot of this stuff is so far out there and so disputed it shouldn’t even be an issue,” he said.

‘Democracy at work’

Some of New Mexico’s Sanders delegates said they will arrive in Philadelphia looking to ensure the platform addresses Sanders’ issues, such a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage and college tuition assistance. Eleanor Chavez, a Sanders delegate from Albuquerque, said Clinton has embraced some of Sanders’ positions, but only under pressure.

“I don’t know that she met him; I think she was pushed,” Chavez said. “Without Bernie, she would not have even thought about some things that are in that platform. I don’t think she would have come as far if Bernie hadn’t been there.”

But Chavez doesn’t anticipate a divisive atmosphere among New Mexico’s Democratic delegates in Philadelphia.

“I don’t see it as division,” Chavez said. “I don’t think we’ve ever going to agree on everything. I see it as democracy at work.”

Dylan Stafford, an 18-year-old Albuquerque resident who is one of the youngest delegates in the nation, is a Hillary Clinton supporter.

“Seeing her give the speech accepting the Democratic nomination is going to be a phenomenal, historic experience,” he said.

Although Stafford said some Bernie Sanders backers may try to “stir things up” at the convention, he’s optimistic most Democrats will come together to support their party’s nominee.

“The threat of Donald Trump will really help bring people together,” he predicted.

Debbie Maestas, chairwoman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said  the Republican convention in Cleveland worked to unite Republicans around Trump. But she predicted Democrats will have a harder time coalescing around their candidate.

“I think the Democrats in Philadelphia are divided. They have a lot of issues,” Maestas said. “They aren’t that excited about their candidate, because she has a lot of baggage. Truly, to have Hillary Clinton as president of the country does not look good. It’s not a bright future. It’s pretty grim.”

Journal staff writer Dan Boyd contributed to this story.