Trump seeks to expand electoral map with New Mexico rally

RIO RANCHO, N.M. - President Trump on Monday rallied thousands of supporters at a boisterous campaign event where he rattled off a familiar list of accomplishments, targeted a familiar list of foils and expressed optimism that he could turn New Mexico red in 2020.

The president packed the Santa Ana Star Center here for his first rally in the state since the 2016 general election campaign. The event underscored the Trump campaign's belief that it can expand his electoral map by competing in states won by Democrat Hillary Clinton three years ago, despite skepticism from election experts.

"It's been quite a while since a Republican won this state," Trump said near the beginning of his 90-minute speech.

"We're here for a number of reasons, but we really think we're going to turn this state and make it a Republican state," he added, sparking a raucous cheer.

There was evident enthusiasm in New Mexico for the president's arrival.

The city of Rio Rancho shut down public schools and offices for the day in anticipation of the heavy traffic associated with the rally.

Hundreds of onlookers lined the streets as Trump's motorcade made its way from the Albuquerque airport to the venue, waving American flags and snapping photos and videos.

A handful of protesters gathered on one overpass to hang a banner that read "No One Loves Trump."

But inside the arena, the rally featured scant empty seats and a rollicking crowd that roared at the mention of the border wall, the Second Amendment and other pieces of red meat for the president's base.

Trump seized on The New York Times' handling of new reporting on allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He provoked intense jeers from supporters as he called for the resignation of Times editors involved in publishing the story.

He paid particular attention to low unemployment rates for Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in an effort to appeal to local voters.

Supporters held signs aloft that read "Latinos for Trump" and encouraged supporters to text "VAMOS" to a campaign number.

Otherwise, the content of the rally was largely similar to the president's other campaign events. He boasted of the number of judges he's appointed, bemoaned former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, lambasted Democrats as "radical," hammered the need for border security and assured supporters that his trade posture toward China and other countries is working.

"Is there any place in the world that's more fun or more exciting than a Trump rally?" Trump asked supporters at one point.

New Mexico presents a stark challenge for the president to pick up its five electoral votes in 2020. Clinton won the state by roughly 8 percentage points in 2016, or 65,000 votes.

The state's elected officials skew Democratic, with the party holding control of the governor's mansion and both chambers of the state legislature. Both U.S. Senate seats and all three House seats are held by Democrats, and Republicans face a difficult path to winning the race to replace retiring Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

The New Mexico Democratic Party sought to project confidence on Monday night about its standing moving forward with an event of its own to counterprogram Trump's rally.

But Republicans are adamant that the state is in play for Trump, along with other battlegrounds like Minnesota and New Hampshire, where the president has also held campaign events in recent weeks. 

Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said the foundation for Monday's rally was laid when the campaign collected data from attendees of the president's El Paso, Texas, rally earlier this year that showed a number of attendees came from the Las Cruces, N.M., area.

The data indicated that the president had an opportunity to gain traction in the state, which hasn't been won by a Republican presidential candidate since George W. Bush narrowly carried it in 2004. 

Gorka argued New Mexico's Democratic government provides an opportunity to illustrate ways the party has shifted further left and suggested that could provide an opening for Trump to tie the state to his regular attacks on national Democrats like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

"It's a unique state in a way that we don't have to really look hard to localize national issues," he said. "It's already happening, and it'll continue to happen over the course of this cycle."