N.M.'s Primary Could Predict How Latinos Vote In November
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Donald Trump was in New Mexico last night, ahead of that state's primary - a rally that attracted protesters whose rock throwing got this reaction from police.
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DONALD TRUMP: Bring them home to mom. Go home to mommy. Go home to mommy.
MONTAGNE: OK. Of course, that wasn't the police. That was Donald Trump himself. There was rock throwing. Police objected to that. Inside, candidate Trump matched the anger outside, attacking Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren in a state that's seen as a bellwether for the Latino vote. Gabriel Sanchez teaches political science at the University of New Mexico.
GABRIEL SANCHEZ: A lot of folks don't realize that over 40 percent of eligible voters here in New Mexico are Hispanic voters. And so I think candidates realize if they can do well out here, they can send a message that they can do well with Hispanic or Latino voters overall.
MONTAGNE: Sanchez spoke to us about how Latino voters there are responding to the candidates.
SANCHEZ: The first thing to note is that, like all Hispanic voters, there's a lot of diversity within the New Mexico Hispanic population. Overall, I would say that Hillary Clinton definitely has done the best. She and her husband have always had strong connections in New Mexico.
And she's polling very well against Bernie Sanders, as well as Trump in the general, if we get that far. But when you look within the population, there's a pocket particularly of young Hispanics, just like you see overall nationally, that are really gravitated towards Bernie Sanders.
And so him being out here this week generating a lot of energy leads to a lot of speculation about what might happen in the primary - not so much whether Bernie can pull it out, but if he'll continue to show some weaknesses for the Hillary campaign among that particular subgroup of Latinos.
MONTAGNE: Well, you know, there is nothing monolithic about America's Hispanic or Latino population. But one thing about New Mexico - many Hispanic people have been there for generations. And they pride themselves as being descended directly from Spain. So how does that work out politically?
SANCHEZ: You know, that's a good point. You know, you have a lot of families like my own here in New Mexico that trace their ancestry back to the 14 or 1500s to this territory. What we typically see is that the Spanish identifiers tend to be slightly more moderate to conservative than those who identify as Mexican.
However, in this election cycle, largely because the immigration debate has been perceived by most Hispanics as anti-Hispanic in nature, you're actually seeing a major movement here in New Mexico among all Hispanics towards a Democratic Party.
MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk, then, about Donald Trump. He was just in New Mexico. How is he being regarded?
SANCHEZ: You know, Donald Trump generated a lot of enthusiasm. There's a lot of folks that show up to his rallies to support him - but also almost the same number of folks that show up to protest.
You know, you see a lot of Hispanic voters motivated to vote in this election cycle primarily to stop or prevent Trump from being able to win. And I think a lot of that is the baggage from the statements that he made around Mexican immigrants.
So we've been tracking this for a long time at Latino Decisions. Over half of the Latino eligible voting population here in New Mexico who say they know somebody who is undocumented personally, either a member of their family or a friend - you know, those kinds of statements - it's not about policy to them. I think it's personal.
And it touches on this general trend that a lot of Latinos we see don't necessarily think about immigration politics and policy as their forefront issue. But when they think about it as challenging their identity and who they are, it really motivates them, you know, to not only vote, but take a closer look at not only Trump, but the overall Republican Party.
MONTAGNE: Now, I gather New Mexico's Republican governor, Susana Martinez - she condemned Donald Trump over those comments about Mexican immigrants. What about now? So many Republicans are getting behind Donald Trump as a candidate. What do you think about her?
SANCHEZ: You know, Governor Susana Martinez is very interesting when we think about the national political landscape. You know, she has two qualities, demographically, that Donald Trump desperately needs. You know, looking at his weaknesses - it's with women and Hispanic voters. And she happens to have both in her personal characteristics.
So long story short of it is - in my opinion, Donald Trump needs Governor Martinez a lot more than she needs him. Keep in mind, also, that earlier in the primary season, she endorsed formally Marco Rubio, who is obviously a huge opposition to Donald Trump. So you've heard a lot of national pundits and experts really hone in on Governor Martinez as being a possible running mate for Donald Trump for the reasons that I just laid out.
You know, at this point, I'd have to say that it would be difficult in my view for the governor early on in the season to have really sharp words about his comments around immigration and Mexican immigrants and then move 180 degrees towards him as a formal running mate.
So, you know, in this election cycle, the one thing that I've learned is - you never say never because we're essentially breaking new ground every week. But I would be pretty surprised if that were to happen.
MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.
SANCHEZ: Thank you. It's been an absolute pleasure.
MONTAGNE: Gabriel Sanchez teaches political science at the University of New Mexico. And he is with Latino Decisions, a survey focused on the Latino population. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.