A handful of Republicans from New Mexico were chatting at the Republican National Convention the other day when a reporter for CNN en Español stopped by to see if anyone could do an interview in Spanish.
“Of course,” one of the delegates said. Just about any one of them could.
Latino Democrats far outnumber Latino Republicans in New Mexico, and Democrats hold a 15 percentage point registration advantage over Republicans in the state. But unlike in California, where a withering Republican Party holds no statewide office and neither chamber of the Legislature, New Mexico elected a Republican governor, Susana Martinez, in 2010, and Republicans control the state’s lower house.
Much of the California Republican Party’s decline can be attributed to demographics. Like California, a growing Hispanic population has helped the Democratic Party steadily increase its advantage in New Mexico. But unlike in California, far fewer of those voters come from Mexico and South America. They trace their roots to Spain, many of them as far back as the 1500s.
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“They’re pretty far removed from the immigrant experience,” said Gabriel Sanchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico and a principal at Latino Decisions.
But the Republican Party’s politicians in New Mexico have also made different political calculations. In California, then-Gov. Pete Wilson championed Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative to restrict public services to undocumented immigrants that, while later overturned by the courts, alienated many Latinos just as they were emerging as a political force.
Phil Archuletta, Republican National Convention delegate from Mountainair, N.M.
Many Republican consultants and donors in California fear Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will only drive Latinos further away from the party. But for the most part, they have declined to turn on the party’s presidential nominee. Trump captured 70 percent of the vote in New Mexico’s Republican primary, and all of the state’s delegates to this convention are in the nominee’s column.
Over breakfast this week in Sandusky, where the California Republican Party is staying for the national convention, Frank Visco, a former state party chairman, said “things went sideways on this immigration issue” in California.
However, he said, many Latino voters care about border security and immigration reform.
“To a certain degree, I think the wall can be sold to Latinos,” he said.
Contrast that with New Mexico, where the Republican Party helped elect Martinez, the nation’s first Latina governor. She criticized Trump’s border plan and feuded publicly with him this year.
“The whole legacy of the Prop. 187 effect in California,” Sanchez said, “we just don’t have that.”
On the floor of Quicken Loans Arena, New Mexico delegate Fernando CDeBaca, of Albuquerque, did the CNN interview. Later, noting the vast differences between the Latino populations in California and New Mexico, he said “you have a lot of people who are first generation or second generation.” They are more sensitive to immigration issues, he said, and are harder for the Republican Party to recruit.
Looking across the convention floor to the California delegation, Phil Archuletta, of Mountainair, N.M., said, “California’s lost.”