Just after securing the GOP presidential nomination in May 2016, Donald Trump landed in New Mexico and declared to a rally crowd, “We’re going to win this state.” Six months later, Hillary Clinton beat him there by eight percentage points.
But even as Democrats have increased power in New Mexico, President Trump is convinced he can compete.
On Monday, he returns to the state for the first time since taking office to hold a re-election rally near Albuquerque.
New Mexico is among a handful of states Trump’s well-financed campaign contends he can take from Democrats in 2020. The bravado comes amid continued Republican worries over Trump holding on to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, states that were essential to his 2016 victory.
“We go into states with the assumption that we’re going to win,” said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. The campaign is preparing to announce staff hiring for New Mexico and will invest in voter registration efforts, neither of which were done in 2016.
Other states the campaign is eyeing as pickups, including Minnesota, New Hampshire and Nevada, were closer in 2016 than New Mexico, causing some skepticism even among Republicans. The state hasn’t favored a Republican for president since 2004. Following Trump’s election, Democrats have taken back the governor’s mansion, increased a hold on the legislature and now control all three Congressional seats.
“We take nothing for granted but the fact that the Trump campaign says their path forward lies through New Mexico is an indication they don’t have a realistic argument about a path to 270 electoral votes,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.
As will be the case nationally, Trump’s argument in New Mexico will focus on the economy.
In Albuquerque, aides say, he will tout overall job gains with a particular focus on Hispanics, who make up 40% of the state’s electorate, and play up his trade battles. The campaign also thinks he can draw a contrast with a progressive policy shift New Mexico has seen under a new Democratic governor and the Democratic gains in the legislature. Lawmakers have pushed for more abortion access, stricter gun control and gender-neutral bathrooms.
Republicans hope to capitalize on Democrats’ pursuit of environmental policies that could hurt the state’s oil-and-gas industry. In March, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law landmark energy legislation mandating emission-free electricity by 2045. Several leading Democratic presidential candidates have outlined their own proposals, including bans on fracking, which has been a boon to New Mexico’s economy.
“New Mexico has a long liberal perspective, but there has been an overreach,” said Republican state Rep. Rod Montoya. “There is an opportunity here.”
Despite Trump’s charged rhetoric about immigration, which has drawn criticism from Republicans in New Mexico, his campaign argues his positions resonate with Hispanic voters who value border security and want people to enter the country legally.
Campaign manager Brad Parscale asserted in a conference call with reporters Wednesday that the president’s tough trade stance with China is also resonating with Hispanic voters, and that is among the reasons driving the decision to compete for the state.
A rally held in El Paso, Texas, earlier this year drew a number of Hispanics from New Mexico, according to the campaign, and helped convince Trump he should engage there. His last rally in the state drew a large crowd and was met with a rowdy protest, including clashes with police.
Strong fundraising has buttressed the Trump campaign’s hopes of expanding its electoral map. Through the second quarter of this year, $105 million has been raised between the campaign and the Republican National Committee, beating President Barack Obama ’s re-election fundraising during the same period eight years ago.
Roughly $100 million remains in the bank and Trump is continuing a rapid fundraising schedule; after New Mexico he will travel to California for four events over two days.
“President Trump won a very, very narrow electoral victory in 2016, so it’s natural to try to spread the field going into 2020,” said Michael Steel, a former top Republican House aide who isn’t involved in the campaign. “It’s impossible to know if it’s realistic until we know his opponent, but given his campaign’s vast resources, there’s no reason not to try.”