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Trump rallies in blue New Mexico, aiming to broaden his base

By Gabby Orr

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — President Donald Trump has done little to expand his base since it carried him to victory 2½ years ago. Until now.

Months after telling Time magazine he would “love to broaden” his core group of supporters, Trump appeared here on Monday for his first autumn campaign rally not tied to a congressional Republican candidate. This time, it was all about him and his ability to connect with new voters.

In New Mexico, that includes Hispanics — a demographic group the president repeatedly addressed during his hour-plus speech, touting economic gains that Hispanic communities have seen under his administration and their ability to understand border security “better than other people.”

“Not too long ago, I saw where the Hispanics were up with me in a poll — up by 17 percent — because the Hispanic Americans, they understand they don’t want criminals coming across the border,” Trump told the crowd. “They don’t want people taking their jobs.”

According to data provided by the Spanish-language network Univision, nearly half of New Mexico’s newly registered voters in 2018 were Hispanic. Republicans in the state saw a 23 percent increase in Hispanic registrants from 2014 to 2018 — and Trump campaign officials said their internal numbers reflect that trend.

“We’ve over-performed with the number of Hispanics showing up to rallies each week, and the polling we’ve done today shows we can clearly win the state,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale told POLITICO as he mingled with supporters who arrived early for the president’s rally. Asked why he has so far refused to release those figures publicly, Parscale said it’s too early in the cycle to be parading out positive poll numbers.

But if the Trump campaign is trying to exercise caution in its effort to court voters outside the president’s base, Monday marked an odd start. As a series of openers took the stage to rile up fans before the president arrived — including Sheriff Tony Mace of Cibola County, a Latino Trump supporter — they stressed the need for a border wall and cultural assimilation. When Trump took the stage, he returned to old campaign tactics — lobbing insults against The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post, and making broad claims about his Democratic opponents and their positions on immigration, guns and abortion.

“Democrats are now the party of high taxes, high crime, late-term abortion and socialism,” he crowed. “The Democrats want to annihilate New Mexico’s economy, but the Democrats will never get the chance because New Mexico will never give them the chance.”

Some of the president’s most ardent supporters, however, said they were skeptical of that.

Ross Ramiro, a resident of Pecos, N.M., who supported Trump in 2016, admires Trump for “trying to get everybody’s vote,” but questioned whether the president could succeed in a blue state like New Mexico.

“Winning New Mexico? If I had to put money on it, I don’t think he will,” Ramiro said, standing in line with a group of friends who joined him for the rally.

Arturo Perez, an undocumented immigrant from Juarez, Mexico, who was granted legal status under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and later became a U.S. citizen, said he voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, but is open to supporting Trump in 2020.

“I’m open to both parties as long as the policies make sense,” Perez said, adding that none of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls had caught his attention yet.

“The Democrats say the tax cuts aren’t working for the regular person,” Perez said. “Guess what. I am a regular person and my salary is the highest it’s ever been.”

The Trump campaign is betting that Hispanic voters like Perez will join independent voters in states like New Hampshire and Maine, where they believe the Democratic field’s progressive policy prescriptions are less attractive, to widen the base the president can count on next November. On Monday, Trump said he also expected to expand his appeal among “Venezuelans and Cubans” in parts of Florida, which is largely seen as his firewall in 2020.

Parscale, for one, thinks the president is well on his way to a resounding reelection victory with the help of voters who either didn’t back him or weren’t eligible to cast ballots in 2016.

Pointing toward members of the media, he said on Monday, “They have in their little brains that we are shrinking, but right now the president’s approval is over 50 [percent].” His reference was to a survey released hours before Trump’s rally by the polling group Rasmussen Reports — which has often been accused of having a bias toward conservative candidates and causes — putting the president at 50 percent approval among likely U.S. voters.

Trump later said he couldn’t see how the Land of Enchantment could vote for anyone but him next November, claiming that Democrats want to turn New Mexico “into a sanctuary state” and can no longer compete with the wage growth American workers have seen under his administration.

“You’re doing better than any state in the United States,” he said. “How do I lose New Mexico? Explain that one. We’re here for a number of reasons, but we’re here because we really think we’re going to turn this state.”

Other polls tell a different story about Trump’s race to reelection — one that suggests the president will face an uphill battle as he takes his campaign message to other nontraditional battleground states in an effort to expand his base. A Morning Consult poll released in late August, for instance, found that Trump’s net approval rating had decreased substantially in every key swing state since he took office.

According to the president’s critics, those numbers alone explain why Trump is venturing into New Mexico — a state that has voted Republican only once since 1992. With sinking approval ratings in states he carried in 2016 and a growing exodus of suburban women from the Republican Party, they say Trump has to make up for the support somewhere.

But Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M), who is retiring next November, said his state was an unusual place for the president to begin that effort.

“When [Trump] visits New Mexico tonight, he’ll be visiting a state where we know that our diversity makes us stronger,” Udall wrote in a tweet ahead of the rally here.

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

New Mexico joins Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada and Minnesota as states the Trump campaign is targeting after the president lost them to Hillary Clinton in 2016. To win each state, Trump will have to capture new voters.

On Monday, hours after his campaign announced a series of new hires on the ground here, Trump said he was up for the challenge.

“We will campaign for every vote,” he said. “We have to win in 2020.”