By KEVIN FREKING
President Donald Trump headed to New Mexico on Monday for a campaign rally that demonstrates his efforts to capture a few more Democratic-leaning states in next year’s presidential election.
Trump’s rally in Rio Rancho, in suburban Albuquerque, will be the first stop on a three-day swing that will also take him to California for fundraisers expected to raise more than $15 million.
Trump is looking to find the next Wisconsin or Michigan — states that Democrats generally win in presidential elections but that can surprise under certain conditions, as they did in 2016.
New Mexico has not voted for a Republican in the presidential election since 2004. Trump captured just 40% of the state vote in 2016. Hillary Clinton also fell short of a majority victory, with 48% support in a state she did not visit.
Still, campaign officials say a Trump rally in nearby El Paso, Texas, last February was well attended by female and Hispanic voters and travelers from New Mexico, indicating to them that New Mexico is in play. Hundreds of people showed up early Monday to claim a place in line ahead of the evening event in Rio Rancho. Protesters, for their part, vowed to step up acts of civil disobedience and demonstrations.
“We have the opportunity because of our fundraising and infrastructure to not only defend the states we carried in 2016, but to extend the map in 2020,” said Rick Gorka, a spokesman for a fundraising committee for Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Gorka said New Mexico is a big part of that strategy, as are Minnesota, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Trump’s efforts in New Mexico will provide a test of how well his often-harsh rhetoric about immigrants will play with Hispanic voters, who comprise nearly 40% of New Mexico’s electorate.
Trump is likely to cite his efforts to boost oil and gas production in his bid to win over voters. New Mexico is 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 for film productions.
Lujan Grisham took aim at Trump ahead of his visit, describing the president as being demeaning to Hispanics and immigrants since being elected. She also said Trump’s policies had resulted in increased taxes for some New Mexicans.
Trump will follow up his rally by flying to the San Francisco Bay area on Tuesday for a luncheon fundraiser. He’ll then attend a fundraising dinner that evening in Beverly Hills at the home of real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer. He has two more fundraisers planned in Los Angeles and San Diego on Wednesday.
The fundraisers will benefit Trump Victory, the joint entity that funds Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee.`
Associated Press staff writer Morgan Lee contributed to this report from Santa Fe, New Mexico.