ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Republican vice presidential hopeful Mike Pence is scheduled to make a campaign stop Wednesday in southern New Mexico, as the GOP ticket says the race is tightening in the state with the nation’s highest percentage of Hispanic residents.
The campaign website for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump announced this week that Pence will hold a rally at an airport hangar in Las Cruces.
The Indiana governor’s visit comes just days after Trump visited Albuquerque, and his campaign staff declared they were tied in New Mexico — a traditional Democratic stronghold where almost 50 percent of the state’s residents are Latino.
“I’m going to tell you a little secret. . We’re tied in New Mexico,” Trump told a crowd of around 4,000 at an Albuquerque airport hangar.
A Trump rally in May turned violent in Albuquerque after demonstrators threw rocks and burning shirts at police.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine have not held public events in New Mexico during the campaign. They’ve sent surrogates like former President Bill Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to campaign on their behalf.
Clinton’s campaign on Tuesday announced a six-figure ad buy in New Mexico for two video segments — one juxtaposing incendiary, expletive-punctuated comments by Trump with the faces of children watching television.
Republican Party of New Mexico spokesman W. Tucker Keene said the GOP ticket’s many visits to the state show it is in play.
“Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are taking New Mexico for granted, but the voters know better and their enthusiasm for Donald Trump will be reflected on Election Day,” Keene said.
But Democratic Party of New Mexico chairwoman Debra Haaland said Democrats aren’t worried despite the no-shows from Clinton and Kaine.
“Donald Trump must not be looking at the early vote numbers in New Mexico. Democrats are turning out to vote in record numbers, because they want a country with a strong, steady leader, not a brash and dangerous candidate pushing the extreme Republican agenda,” Haaland said.
Brian Sanderoff, president of the Albuquerque-based Research & Polling, Inc., said the Trump campaign needs to win battleground states and convert traditional blue states like New Mexico to win the presidency.
“The Trump campaign must believe it has a shot because it would be silly to come here otherwise,” Sanderoff said.
Sanderoff said the Clinton campaign probably feels comfortable about its chances in New Mexico or else she would have visited the state.
Pence held two campaign events in Albuquerque and another in Roswell. Wednesday’s visit marks the closest any candidate has gotten to the U.S-Mexico border in New Mexico.
Trump has called for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and has compared Mexican immigrants to rapists and murderers. Those comments drew strong criticism from New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a fellow Republican and the nation’s only Latina governor.
Martinez has refused to support Trump for president.