As President Trump visits New Mexico for a political rally in a state dominated by Democrats, his campaign is seeking to convert enough Hispanic voters to tilt the electoral college map in Republicans’ favor next year.
“His chances are poor to nonexistent” in New Mexico, said David Wasserman, a political analyst for the Cook Political Report. “The Hispanic vote is important to his chances in Arizona and Florida, but the real payoff would be if outreach to Hispanic voters limits his losses among suburban whites. In other words, a bank shot.”
For a campaign flush with cash and seeking several pathways to 270 electoral votes, the New Mexico gambit is the latest example of the president embracing unorthodox strategies for his reelection bid.
Trump campaign officials say the president is serious about flipping New Mexico, which has been won by a Republican presidential candidate only once since 1992. Trump wouldn’t travel more than 1,800 miles for a rally in Rio Rancho, N.M., if there were no real pathway to victory, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.
They point to internal numbers that indicate Trump’s support among Hispanics is on the rise, driven in part by the president’s aggressive approach to trade with China. Trump regularly touts the historically low unemployment rate among Hispanics, a trend he claims will propel his own numbers with minority voters in 2020.
While the campaign’s claims of growing Hispanic support are not backed by public polling, the president’s decision to travel to New Mexico is an indication that he will make some effort to reach beyond his mostly white base to court new voters ahead of 2020.
But the president has only hardened his rhetoric and policies targeting immigrants since the 2018 midterm elections that swept Republicans out of power across the state. Democrats won New Mexico’s governorship and all three of its congressional races. They flipped one congressional district Trump had won by 10 percentage points in 2016.
He has continued to pursue an unpopular border wall, recently targeting military projects across the country for money after Congress declined to provide funding.
“Big crowd expected in New Mexico tonight, where we will WIN,” Trump wrote Monday on Twitter. “Your Border Wall is getting stronger each and every day — see you in a few hours!”
Trump would have to significantly outperform his 2016 showing to score an upset victory in New Mexico next year. Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 8 percentage points in the state.
Democratic turnout increased significantly in 2018, with voters animated in part by Trump’s aggressive crackdown on migration from Central America, said New Mexico Democratic Party Chairwoman Marg Elliston.
“New Mexicans certainly don’t approve of pulling families apart or putting kids in cages,” she said in an interview. “We’re ready for leadership that celebrates our immigrant communities, not demonizes them.”
Hispanics make up almost 50 percent of the population in New Mexico, the highest share of any state, according to the Census Bureau.
Trump campaign chairman Brad Parscale told reporters last week that his team has been analyzing data from the president’s January rally in El Paso, and has seen movement among key voting groups that could make New Mexico competitive. Parscale referred to internal polling that he said shows Hispanic voters support Trump’s trade war with China.
Trump’s public courting of Hispanic voters could be an attempt to boost his numbers with suburban white voters who have been turned off the president’s harsh rhetoric on immigration and other issues, Wasserman said.
By holding a rally with a more diverse electorate than his typical overwhelmingly white crowds, Trump can create imagery that pushes back against claims that he is racist.
The Trump campaign has been hosting several events targeting Hispanic voters in recent days, including a panel discussion and volunteer training session in Houston last week. The campaign released a statement Monday celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and announced a second New Mexico event set for Tuesday.
Steve Pearce, New Mexico’s Republican Party chairman, said Trump has tempered his language on immigration since 2016, going out of his way to voice support for legal immigrants. And Trump’s hard-line stance on undocumented immigrants is supported by many Hispanic voters, he said.
“Hispanic voters, generally, in New Mexico have come here from Mexico or Central America, and the majority came legally,” Pearce said in an interview. “They have family members who want to come over, so they prefer an orderly process for immigration.”
Pearce said he has encouraged Trump to be more specific when he talks about immigration, and has seen the president’s numbers with Hispanic voters improve in recent months.
“It’s about tone, it’s about how you say things and it’s about your intention,” he said.
Guy Cecil, the chairman of the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, said Monday that there was nothing in his group’s survey research to suggest New Mexico would be a swing state in 2020. He attributed the Trump campaign’s focus there to an effort to attract free media attention.
“If they want to compete in New Mexico, they should go spend money there,” Cecil said. “That’s how we will know that they are serious.”
The group’s September election modeling concluded that Trump is more likely to win five other states that lean Democratic before New Mexico: Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota and Colorado.
Trump’s approval rating among Hispanic adults stood at 25 percent in a Washington Post-ABC News national poll this month. That is 13 points lower than Trump’s overall job approval rating of 38 percent.
In head-to-head matchups with Joe Biden, combined Post-ABC polls in September and early July found Trump trailing 71 to 26 percent, which is similar to his losing margin among Hispanics in 2016, according to exit polling.
Trump campaign officials have said their robust fundraising gives them flexibility to invest in traditionally Democratic states such as New Mexico.
In July, Trump and the affiliated committees raising money for his reelection bid said they had raised a record-breaking $108 million in the second quarter of 2019.
Phil Rucker, Michael Scherer and Scott Clement contributed to this report.