Just hours after New York City prosecutors went on the offensive by subpoenaing his tax returns, President Trump is set to take the stage in Democratic-leaning New Mexico on Monday night for a campaign rally that demonstrates his own aggressive tack going into the 2020 presidential election.
Trump’s rally in suburban Albuquerque is the first stop on a three-day swing that will also take him to California for fundraisers expected to raise more than $15 million. The county where the rally is being held, Rio Rancho, went to Hillary Clintonin 2016, if only by just 1,800 votes.
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. Also on the Trump team’s shortlist: Nevada, New Hampshire and Minnesota.
New Mexico has not tilted toward a Republican in the presidential election since 2004. Trump captured just 40 percent of the state vote in 2016.
Hillary Clinton fell short of a majority victory, with 48 percent support in a state she did not visit.
Recent indicators have not been favorable fo the GOP. Last year, Republicans lost a House seat and the governor’s mansion. Last week, a congressional candidate went viral by taunting the president by name in an ad.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is running in an open Senate primary to replace retiring Democrat Tom Udall, greeted news of Trump’s rally in New Mexico at first with mocking disbelief, and then with a tweeted string of stern warnings.
“Rio Rancho is in my district, and anyone who undermines the safety, security, or way of life of our communities, isn’t welcome here,” he wrote.
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, suggesting 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.
Trump’s first visit to New Mexico as president drew visitors from Colorado, California and all parts of New Mexico, according to local media reports.
“This is New Mexico. A lot of people in New Mexico really like Trump because he’s fighting for them,” an attendee told local station KRQE-13.
Some observers, however, have their doubts.
“Bush had much higher favorable opinions by Hispanics,” said Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, who noted Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry 15 years ago by winning over large rural swaths of the state. “He was from Texas, not New York, and so he had more regional ties. … Trump paints a very different portrait.”
Among those waiting for the president in New Mexico is former CIA operative Valerie Plame, the top contender in a crowded Democratic primary race for New Mexico’s northern congressional district, which Luján currently represents. Plame noted she has a “few scores to settle” with the president in a swaggering new video that shows her speeding across the desert in a muscle car — in reverse — before spinning forward in a swirl of dust. The campaign advertisement’s accuracy was questioned.
The Trump campaign said that the situation on the ground in the state has changed significantly since 2016. In August, Vice President Pence declared New Mexico was back “in play” politically in a visit to the Permian Basin, a booming petroleum production zone overlapping portions of southern New Mexico and western Texas.
“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.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said he believes the president’s standing has improved since 2016. He credited the economy, including the fact that Latino unemployment is at an all-time low, as well as the president’s stance on immigration enforcement.
“The most valuable commodity that we have as a campaign is the president’s time. And he will not travel all the way to New Mexico for a head fake,” Murtaugh said.
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 percent 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.
Specifically, she has pilloried Trump’s border wall while withdrawing most National Guard troops from the border and suing the U.S. Homeland Security Department to recoup spending by local governments to shelter and feed asylum-seeking migrants released into southern New Mexico towns such as Las Cruces and Deming.
Trump will stay in Albuquerque on Monday night, then 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.
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.