SANTA FE, N.M. — Donald Trump lost New Mexico by 8 percentage points in 2016. Last year, his party lost a House seat and the governor’s mansion. Last week, a congressional candidate went viral by taunting the president by name in an ad.
Still, Trump is headed to New Mexico on Monday for a campaign rally that is making some politicos scratch their heads.
Is New Mexico, a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since George W. Bush in 2004, in play? The Trump campaign argues yes and has put it — along with Nevada, New Hampshire and Minnesota — on the shortlist of states Trump lost in 2016 and is plotting to win in 2020. New Mexico is an especially ambitious goal, one that may ride on Trump’s strength in rural America and fall on his failure to win over Hispanics.
“Bush had much higher favorable opinions by Hispanics,” said Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, who noted Bush defeated John Kerry 15 years ago by winning over large rural swaths of the state. “He was from Texas, not New York, and so he had more regional ties. … Trump paints a very different portrait.”
Atkeson doesn’t see Trump going far politically in a state with the highest concentration of Latinos in the U.S.
Among those waiting for the president in New Mexico is former CIA operative Valerie Plame, the top contender in a crowded Democratic primary race for New Mexico’s northern congressional district. Plame notes she has a “few scores to settle” with the president in a swaggering new video that shows her speeding across the desert in a muscle car — in reverse — before spinning forward in a swirl of dust.
Viewed a million times on YouTube within days, the ad flickers with a newsreel-style montage of Plame’s thwarted undercover career at keeping nukes from terrorists — tied quickly to Trump’s presidential pardon of the man convicted of lying to investigators about the 2003 leak of Plame’s covert identity by an official in the Bush administration. That was apparent retribution for her then-husband Joe Wilson’s opposition to the Iraq War.
Trump used a recent rally in North Carolina to try to stoke Republican’s enthusiasm for Dan Bishop, on the eve of the congressional candidate’s narrow election victory in a do-over vote after 2018 midterm results were tossed out on fraud concerns.
Trump’s plans for Monday are reminiscent of his May 2016 rally at a convention center in Albuquerque that touched off protests and outdoor scenes of burning T-shirts and police tear gas. Inside, Trump spoke of local welfare dependency and said better work was needed from then-Gov. Susana Martinez — who skipped the rally and long wavered as a Republican in supporting Trump.
He will arrive this time to a state in the midst of an oil production boom that has boosted employment and spurred a state government spending spree from first-year Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on public education, roadway projects and tax rebates to film productions. The Trump administration has seized on the local oil industry’s vigor as a hallmark of America’s “energy renaissance.”