AMARILLO, Texas — The future of the Republican Party of New Mexico is taking shape in a neighboring state.
While the optics of holding its annual convention and doing its political planning in Texas are less than ideal, Republicans felt somewhat powerless in their decision, saying COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings that Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham imposed on New Mexico left them with little choice.
In all candor, feeling powerless has become a harsh reality for Republicans in New Mexico in recent years. And no, that’s not fake news.
Democrats control each of the three centers of political power in the state — the office of the governor and both chambers in the Legislature. All statewide offices are also held by Democrats. And of the five members of Congress, only one is a Republican, though the GOP hopes to score a win during a special election June 1 for the 1st Congressional District.
“When we flip this seat, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi only has a two-vote margin,” state Sen. Mark Moores, an Albuquerque Republican running for the seat, told an enthusiastic crowd of Republicans during a “call to action” breakfast Saturday morning.
“We need to save this country, and that’s what this is all about,” he said.
Getting more Republicans into elective office is also what it’s all about for the New Mexico GOP.
During the weekend convention, which ends Sunday, a big topic of conversation was how the party can get more Republicans elected. Though a panel discussion on “finding candidates and running for office” was off-limits to the news media, party leaders and members of the GOP spoke openly about capitalizing on what they called New Mexicans’ shared conservative values, particularly among minority voters.
“We’re never going to win New Mexico with 30-second TV ads. We’re not,” party Chairman Steve Pearce told Republicans. “You’re going to have to take your values into communities that typically reject us. I went into areas that said they’ve never seen a Republican before, and they listened.”
Clint Harden, a former state senator and New Mexico labor secretary who now works as a lobbyist, said Republicans need to make up ground in the metropolitan areas of the state.
“The challenge, if you will, is to replace the progressive wing of the Democrat Party in the Rio Grande corridor,” he said. “We don’t have any trouble with electing Republicans up and down the east side of the state, and the same on the west side, but the vote coming out of the Rio Grande corridor affects the entire state.”
Harden, who prefers to frame the issue as progressives versus conservatives instead of Democrats versus Republicans, said the party needs to figure out how it can help Bernalillo County, the most populous county in the state, elect more conservative candidates.
Though he said he doesn’t know the solution, personal outreach has to be in the mix.
“If you have family or friends in Bernalillo [County], the Rio Grande corridor, call them,” he said. “Word of mouth is great advertising.”
Pablo Martinez, chairman of McKinley County’s Republican Party, said he plans to deliver a personal message to voters.
“My goal and my plan is to reach out to Native Americans on the reservation … and let them know that they’re not forgotten and that traditionally they are conservatives at heart,” said Martinez, who is a quarter Zuni and a quarter Navajo.
“Native American heritage and beliefs are rooted in conservative views and values,” he added.
Louie Sanchez, an Albuquerque business owner who sought the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in 2020, said the party has to improve in two areas to get more Republicans into elective office: its message and its messengers.
“If you take New Mexico as a whole, 50 percent of the state is Hispanic, so this new — and I’m calling it the new Republican Party — they’re looking at diverse candidates,” he said. “They’re trying to be inclusive and to show that basically the old guard has gone away, and we need to go in a new direction in the future to sustain the party.”
Sanchez said Republicans have always had the “reputation or the stigma” of being the party of rich, white men.
“This is not grandpa’s old Republican Party,” he said. “This is the new Republican Party, and I kind of like where it’s going. If you go into the [convention meeting] room, yes, there are Anglos. But there’s also a lot of Hispanics in that room. There’s Blacks in the room. There’s Native Americans in that room. We have Asians in the room. If this was the Republican Party of old, it would be a bunch of white, rich men.”
State Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, said the party faces a difficult job “when the media and the narrative out there” is that Republicans are rich, white people.
“That’s not who I am,” she said, adding that her family is Cherokee and that she was the first person in her family to go to college.
“I identify with New Mexicans, and we share the same values,” she said. “I know that what New Mexicans value is family, and they value freedom.”
Dow may take that message statewide. She said she hasn’t ruled out a run for governor.
In a videotaped message to the New Mexico GOP, Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said she was as optimistic as she’s ever been “as we set our sights on 2022 and beyond.”
“Republicans across America are uniting around our shared values, and we are holding [President] Joe Biden and Democrats’ feet to the fire over their failed policies,” she said. “Come November next year, we are going to win back our House and Senate majorities, and then we’re going to put a Republican president back in office in 2024.”
Her remarks generated loud applause from Republicans.
But only time will tell whether the clapping will translate into votes at the polls.