Lujan Grisham earns praise but little traction as only Latina on Biden shortlist

Lujan Grisham earns praise but little traction as only Latina on Biden shortlist

Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamBiden pick creates furor, underscoring bitterness over Obama immigration policy Buttigieg, former officials added to Biden's transition team No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE, the only Latina on former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response Biden tells CNN town hall that he has benefited from white privilege MORE's running-mate shortlist, has been out of the spotlight in the run-up to his much-awaited announcement.

The New Mexico governor seems to have vanished from pundits' rankings as the debate centers on other contenders, like Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisScott Walker helping to prep Pence for debate against Harris: report California family frustrated that governor, Harris used fire-damaged property for 'photo opportunity' Moderna releases coronavirus vaccine trial plan as enrollment pushes toward 30,000 MORE (D-Calif.), former national security adviser Susan Rice and Michigan Gov. Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerFeehery: A surprising Republican wave election could be looming 400K sign on to ballot drive to repeal Michigan governor's emergency powers States need prepared, predictable policies before the next pandemic MORE (D).

But Lujan Grisham's supporters are touting her health care policy background and her management of the pandemic in New Mexico, as well as her potential to energize the Latino vote, which will be crucial in several battleground states in November.
 
"[Lujan Grisham] has proven to be a very effective governor as you see by the virus positivity rate of only 3 percent in New Mexico, compared to all its neighbors like Arizona or Texas, with 15 percent or 16 percent positivity rates and skyrocketing numbers," said Kenneth Romero, the executive director of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.

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Romero added that Hispanic voters have become a crucial voting bloc in presidential elections.

"So we are the second largest population group in the country, but more importantly, I would tie that in with the fact that Latinos are more likely to be swing voters than African Americans," said Romero. "That's what makes us the crown jewel in this election."

He said a Lujan Grisham pick would help attract Latino voters, many of whom gravitated toward Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersMcConnell accuses Democrats of sowing division by 'downplaying progress' on election security The Hill's Campaign Report: Arizona shifts towards Biden | Biden prepares for drive-in town hall | New Biden ad targets Latino voters Why Democrats must confront extreme left wing incitement to violence MORE (I) in the primaries.

"Certainly the Biden campaign has a lot of ground to gain, considering that Bernie beat him in the Latino vote in every single state," said Romero.

On Tuesday, Lujan Grisham was announced as one of the speakers at next week’s Democratic National Convention, where several other women on Biden’s shortlist will also make an appearance. Chuck Rocha, a political consultant who spoke to The Hill before Lujan Grisham's scheduled appearance was announced, said that while he wanted to see more Latinos at the top level, including at the convention, campaign investment would ultimately determine Hispanic turnout in November.

"I'm personally disappointed there are not more high-level Latinos, but at the end of the day whomever is or is not speaking at an online convention ain't inspiring new Latino voters to show up and vote in November,” said Rocha, who was a consultant for Sanders's winning strategy with Latino voters in the primary. “The only way to do that is spend real money talking to them about how Joe Biden is gonna make their current life better.”

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Still, Lujan Grisham has not ranked highly in the veepstakes, mainly because campaign sources and pundits have focused their attention on other candidates.

Sources close to the campaign are doubtful the New Mexico governor is a dark-horse selection, and many look on her as having the inside track to become secretary of Health and Human Services in an eventual Biden administration.

"As she has said previously, the governor will do everything she can to best support the campaign, boost turnout, and ensure a Democratic victory this fall while she continues to do the critical work needed for the people of New Mexico, including fighting the COVID-19 pandemic," Nora Meyers Sackett, Lujan Grisham's press secretary, said in a statement to The Hill on Tuesday. 

Lujan Grisham got her start in politics running New Mexico's health care program for the elderly under a Republican administration and was promoted to health secretary under former Gov. Bill Richardson (D).

"She was so good I just kept her on, and then she was so good I made her secretary of health," said Richardson in an interview earlier this year.

"She's a very strong talent, she's a big political talent," said Richardson.

As chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus during President TrumpDonald John TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response MORE's first two years in office, Lujan Grisham was thrust into a combative role, taking on the administration from within the Democratic House minority.

That role projected her to become the first Latina Democratic governor in the country's history.

But Lujan Grisham's political acumen and health care bona fides amid a historic pandemic have not made her a front-runner to become Biden's running mate.

Early on in the vice presidential contest, she was often overshadowed by Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto (D), the other Latina who received serious thought before removing herself from consideration in May.

Lujan Grisham has mostly stayed away from promoting herself for the job as the pandemic has worsened and New Mexico's neighbors have become coronavirus hot spots.

She has still raised money for Biden but has taken flak from Republicans in New Mexico for her relatively draconian — as compared to her Republican neighbors — enforcement of coronavirus restrictions.

And while some Hispanics are eager to see a Latina running with Biden, there's a recognition that a 12th-generation Latina from New Mexico might not necessarily resonate with a first- or second-generation Cuban American in Florida, for example.

But many Hispanics want to see a vice presidential nominee of color, regardless of her origin.

"If the [vice presidential] nominee is not a woman of color, that would be a slap in the face to the Hispanic and African American communities," said Romero.

Updated: 3:42 p.m.