Making a surprise campaign stop in New Mexico just nine days before Election Day, Donald Trump held a Sunday evening campaign rally in Albuquerque that sent a political charge through a state that has voted Democratic in recent presidential contests.
“In nine days, we are going to win this state, and we are going to take back the White House,” Trump told a boisterous crowd of roughly 4,000. “I’m going to tell you a little secret. … We’re tied in New Mexico.”
While most polls conducted in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election have shown Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton with a lead in New Mexico, Trump’s campaign has maintained that its internal polls show a “dead heat” in the state.
The rally, which was held in an airplane hangar near the Albuquerque International Sunport, marked the Republican presidential nominee’s second New Mexico campaign stop this year.
Trump held a May rally in Downtown Albuquerque that drew a crowd of roughly 8,000 people and prompted raucous and occasionally violent late-night protests.
Some protesters on Sunday sounded a siren during Trump’s speech, while about a dozen others created a peace vigil, including a papier-mache head representing Santa Muerte, intended to ward off evil spirits.
A tense face-off between about 20 protesters and a line of police in riot gear shaped up outside the gates while Trump spoke.
Police closed the entrance to the Atlantic hangar as protesters – some wearing masks – chanted anti-Trump slogans and in some cases taunted police. But most protesters walked away by 8 p.m., leaving the gate clear for Trump supporters to exit.
Meanwhile, a few other protesters who had secured tickets made a disturbance as Trump began speaking and were escorted out.
In his 50-minute speech, Trump said the nation was on the cusp of “historic political change” and said his election as president would be “Brexit times ten.”
He renewed his calls to repeal the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, saying New Mexico is one of the states hit hardest by the landmark health care legislation.
Trump also vowed to tighten national security and said he would, if elected, invest more money in Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
He then cited statistics showing a recent spike in violent crime in Albuquerque.
“What’s going on out there?” he asked, drawing boisterous shouts from the crowd.
Trump also said he had “a lot of friends in New Mexico,” though he didn’t mention any names, and said his policies would make the state safer.
“When I become president, we will keep the cartels and gang members out of New Mexico,” he said.
Trump, who had campaigned in Nevada and Colorado earlier in the day, did not directly address recent scandals to hit his campaign, including allegations of sexual assault from numerous women.
Jennifer Krisco of Santa Fe said afterward that the rally had “reinforced” her support for Trump.
“He cares about the economy,” she said. “He knows how to create jobs. He knows how to secure our borders.”
Hundreds of Trump backers showed up hours before the rally began, with many of them wearing Trump hats and T-shirts and waiting in line for doors to open.
Bob Scott of Albuquerque said he has already voted for Trump.
“I think he’s a real breath of fresh air,” he said. “He’s not a career politician. He’s new to this, and that appeals to me.”
Gov. Susana Martinez, the state’s two-term GOP governor who has criticized Trump’s comments in the past, did not attend Sunday’s rally or a Trump rally in Albuquerque in May. She traveled to Colorado earlier in the day to attend a memorial service for her goddaughter, according to the Governor’s Office.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., was one of several Republican officials who did attend the event.
Pearce, who spoke before Trump arrived in his customized campaign airplane, pointed out that Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, have made four campaign visits to New Mexico, compared with no public events for Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine. However, other high-profile Democrats have campaigned in New Mexico for Clinton.
“It just indicates one team is taking this state for granted, and the other team is working hard for people’s votes,” he told the Journal.
However, Democratic Party leaders held a news conference near the site of the Trump campaign event and expressed confidence that Clinton will win New Mexico – and its five electoral votes – on Nov. 8.
“I think it’s actually a pipe dream for Donald Trump to think he’s going to win in New Mexico, a state where he’s offended about 98 percent of the people,” said Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque.