LAS CRUCES – In the final push toward Election Day, Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence rallied supporters with promises to turn New Mexico’s blue-state voting record to red.
“This movement is coming together,” Pence said. “New Mexico is coming together, and we’re going to make Donald Trump the next president of the United States of America.”
Pelted for more than half an hour by a light rain, Pence spoke to a crowd at an airport hangar filled to near its 500-person capacity. Supporters stood in the shelter while Pence spoke at a podium under the drizzle.
Waving placards emblazoned with “Make America great again” and “Drain the swamp,” supporters cheered when Pence promised Trump will repeal the Affordable Care Act, “build a wall” at the Mexican border, have “zero tolerance for criminal illegal aliens” and “renegotiate NAFTA.”
“This election is really about issues that come right to our kitchen tables,” Pence said, “that have to do with our security, our prosperity and with the Supreme Court of the United States of America.”
A vacancy exists on the nine-member court after the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year, while two elder justices may soon retire – potentially allowing the next president to tip the balance toward a more liberal or a more conservative court.
Pence revved up the crowd by accusing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of corruption, and supporters responded by chanting, “Lock her up!”
Many supporters – including old and young people, Anglo and Hispanic, from Las Cruces, Alamogordo and El Paso – said they had already voted. Pence called on them to encourage their relatives and friends to head to the polls.
Southern New Mexico, defined by the 2nd Congressional District, is 54 percent Hispanic, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, although Hispanics account for 40 percent of total registered voters. The region swings between the two parties.
Don and Becca Williams attended the rally and said they had already cast their ballots.
“We thought that every point that he made was great,” Becca said. Speaking about Pence’s plea to bring others on board, Don said, “America needs this.”
In an exceptionally polarizing election year, in which dozens of high-ranking Republicans, including Gov. Susana Martinez, have disavowed or refused to endorse Trump, Pence, the governor of Indiana, addressed the divisions within his own party.
“I think it’s time to say with one voice to our fellow Republicans, it’s time to come home,” he said.
Republican Rep. Steve Pearce, who represents southern New Mexico, restated his support for Trump at the rally. “I hear people every day expressing concerns about what Trump says,” Pearce said. “I’m more worried about what she does, I will just tell you that.”
Pearce underscored New Mexico’s importance to the Trump campaign, saying, “The Trump team is coming in again and again to say ‘We value your vote.'”
Trump has visited New Mexico twice since May and Pence has held three rallies in the state. High-level surrogates for Clinton have made stops in New Mexico, but neither Clinton nor her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, have visited the state this election cycle.
Democratic Rep. Bill McCamley of Las Cruces told a news conference before the rally, “The Clintons have a long and deep history in the state, and the campaign is investing a lot of resources to get out the vote.”
Earlier, outside the airport hangar, the scene was peaceful, but the mood intense as supporters and detractors intermittently screamed at each other.
Loud arguments began as a few protesters began speaking one at a time through a megaphone, including one woman who said she came to the U.S. illegally as a child. Trump supporters shouted “Trump, Trump” or “USA” to drown them out.
“I hope you can reflect on what Jesus, or your God, would say about what your candidate says,” protester Sarah Silva said to the supporters in line. “I hope you can reflect on that.”
Earlier in the day, 45-year-old Irma Trujillo was among the first to arrive, holding a hot-pink sign saying “Deplorable Latina (heart) Trump” – a play on Clinton’s statement that half of Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables,” for which Clinton later apologized.
Trujillo said she is “sick of politicians” and agrees with Trump’s tough line on immigration.
“There is nothing racist about keeping undocumented immigrants out,” she said.
In a desert field near the airport, Democrats held a news conference to denounce the Trump-Pence ticket, tout Clinton’s platform and urge people to vote early.
“Trump’s message is divisive, it’s dangerous and it’s not good for our communities,” McCamley said.
A few protesters joined. Jeneen Roybal held a sign saying “Love Trumps Hate.”
“I am not a Trump supporter,” she said. “If Trump wins, we’ll be set back 50 years.”