RIO RANCHO — President Donald Trump vowed Monday night to win New Mexico in next year’s election, wooing Hispanic voters and promising to protect the state’s energy industry.

“We will campaign for every vote and we will win the great state of New Mexico,” Trump said at a raucous campaign rally at the Santa Ana Star Center. “For whatever reason, it’s been quite a while since a Republican won this state, but I think we’re going to win this state.”

The rally, which marked Trump’s first appearance in New Mexico since he won the presidency, was the first salvo in his bid to try to flip the state. The goal figures to be quite a challenge, as a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t won the state since 2004, and the GOP suffered losses across the board here in last year’s midterms, including all statewide races.

Yet the president appeared undeterred in assuring the lively crowd he can prevail, devoting a significant portion of his more than 90-minute speech to trying to win over the Latino vote in a state with the largest percentage of Hispanic residents in the nation.

Trump said Hispanics have made economic gains during his administration. He also called out the start of Hispanic Heritage Month and claimed Latinos want him to continue building the border wall. Some supporters held signs that read “Latinos for Trump” and encouraged people to text the word “VAMOS” to a specific number.

“The Hispanic Americans, they understand they don’t want criminals coming across the border, they don’t want people taking their jobs, they want that security and they want the wall,” Trump said. “Among those hardest hit by illegal immigration are Hispanic Americans who obey the laws, pay their taxes, contribute to our communities and play by the rules.”

Trump promised to build 500 miles of border wall by the end of next year.

The president made overtures to Mexican Americans, saying his administration was “working night and day to deliver a future of limitless opportunity for our nation’s Hispanic American citizens, including millions and millions of extraordinary Mexican Americans who enrich our society.”

He also praised Mexico itself, thanking President Andrés Manual Lopéz Obrador for “doing a great job for us” by stationing tens of thousands of troops at the country’s borders to stop migrants. The comment was followed by loud chants of “Build the wall!”

“As the wall goes up, people aren’t getting through,” Trump said. “You gotta be a world-class pole vaulter or a world-class Mount Everest-like climber.”

The president also gave a shout out to CNN commentator Steve Cortes, a member of Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council, and said Cortes “happens to be Hispanic, but I’ve never quite figured it out because he looks more like a WASP than I do.”

Trump began touting New Mexico’s energy industry early on in his speech, noting increases in oil and gas production and taking credit for skyrocketing state revenue that is largely due to that industry.

The oil and gas industry has “generated a near billion-dollar budget surplus in New Mexico,” he said. “Thank you very much, President Trump.

“That’s in a short period of time,” Trump added. “Give me a little bit more time.”

He then slammed Democrats and the proposed “Green New Deal,” saying they want to “get rid of your energy” and would harm production in the state.

“Every Democrat running for president says they want to abolish all production of oil and gas,” Trump said. “In other words, the Democrats want to completely annihilate New Mexico’s economy.”

“The Democrats will never get the chance because New Mexico will never give them the chance,” he added.

The crowd in the packed arena was clad in clothing with stars and stripes and red “Make America Great Again” caps and held up signs with such phrases as “Women for Trump.”

A giant banner hung behind the stage that read, “Keep America Great!” Another said, “Promises Made,” next to one that said, “Promises Kept.”

As supporters waited for the president’s arrival, one man wearing American flag overalls riled up the crowd by waving a Trump sign, while another ran to and fro wearing a giant mask with a photo of Trump’s face.

The playlist being pumped from the loud speakers before the speech gave attendees a heavy dose of Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses and Michael Jackson, with the occasional aria from Luciano Pavarotti.

During the speech, the crowd interjected loud boos whenever Trump mentioned the “fake” news media and often chanted the phrase “Four more years.”

Perhaps the loudest booing of all came when Trump said “left-wing Democrats” wanted to take away people’s guns.

“I will never allow them to take away your sacred right to keep and bear arms,” he said to cheers.

He also slammed Democrats for “trying to turn you into a total sanctuary state,” referring to bills introduced in the last legislative session that would have barred state agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities seeking to detain or deport immigrants suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

Trump said such a policy would create “a safe harbor for dangerous criminal aliens.”

The reelection campaign said Monday it started to seriously consider making a push in New Mexico after Trump held a rally in El Paso in February and officials noticed a significant number of attendees had traveled across the state line from New Mexico.

“That indicated to us that there might be something going on in New Mexico in terms of support mobilizing for the the president,” Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for the campaign, said in an interview.

As part of the push, the campaign and the Republican National Committee announced Monday the appointment of Leslie White, GOP executive director for Arizona, as state director for New Mexico.



New Mexico House Minority Leader Jim Townsend and former state Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage were also named honorary state chairs.

McEnany said another reason the campaign is targeting the state was an uptick it saw in the president’s approval ratings among Hispanics, saying they approved of his handling of the trade war with China and other issues.

A Sept. 2-5 ABC News/Washington Post survey found Trump’s approval rating was at 25 percent among Hispanics. His overall approval rating was 38 percent, 6 points lower than his rating in a July poll.

Trump said his approval rating had risen 17 percent among Hispanics in one poll, yet did not say which survey that was.

It’s been 15 years since a Republican presidential candidate has won New Mexico. The last one was George W. Bush in 2004, a narrow victory of 48.9 percent to John Kerry’s 48.1 percent.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 48.3 percent of the vote in New Mexico, while Trump won 40 percent and Gary Johnson won 9.3 percent.

The Trump campaign argues that result was much closer than it seemed because of the percentage of the vote that went to Johnson. Trump will be targeting those voters next year, Pearce said in a speech Monday.

“I could tell Republicans were really down after that election,” Pearce told the crowd before Trump’s arrival. “Forget the past. We’re going to turn New Mexico in 2020.”

Yet pollsters and political analysts in the state have said Trump’s chances of winning New Mexico are slim. For one, they note there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state — by a count of 45.6 percent to 30.2 percent, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.

For their part, state Democrats remain adamant Trump won’t win and condemned his visit before the rally.

“President Trump, you could learn a thing or two from New Mexico,” Sen. Tom Udall tweeted Monday. “Stop using your platform to divide us and incite bigotry. Show some real leadership.”

A Morning Consult poll released late last month showed Trump’s net approval rating in New Mexico has dropped from plus-17 when he took office in January 2017 to minus-13 this July.

The state’s Democratic Party said in a statement after the speech Trump had “lied repeatedly” Monday night when he said he was working for New Mexico families.

“It’s no surprise that the president has resorted to lying about his accomplishments in a desperate attempt to take credit for Governor Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico State Legislature’s success,” Elliston said in a statement. “He knows that his attempt to win New Mexico is a longshot, and he’s desperately trying to mislead voters to make himself a more attractive candidate.”

Reporter

Jens Erik Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

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