Donald Trump is in New Mexico tonight for a campaign rally, the latest sign his 2020 reelection team believes he can carry the Land of Enchantment in 2020.
Which would seem very unlikely given that a) he lost New Mexico by 8 points to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and b) Democrats control the state’s governorship, both its Senate seats and its entire House delegation.
At the same time, Trump broke longtime Democratic strangleholds on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2016 – expanding the electoral map in ways that looked, candidly, unlikely even a month or so before that election.
That recent history suggests that dismissing the Trump campaign’s plan to grow the 2020 map into New Mexico (as well as New Hampshire and Nevada, where Clinton won in 2016) is a mistake. Especially when you consider that just that sort of map expansion may well be necessary if Trump wants to get reelected.
Polling in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin shows Trump’s job approval stuck in the low 40s – a very tough place from which to begin a campaign to re-create his winning coalition in those states. If Trump does lose Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, say, then he has to make them up somewhere else.
Which is where the Trump campaign focus on growing the map into New Mexico comes in. (Yes, New Mexico has only 5 electoral votes – but every little bit helps.) That Trump narrowed the margin in New Mexico from the 10 Mitt Romney lost the state by in 2012 and the 15 points John McCain lost it by in 2008 is likely spurring optimism in the President’s campaign. The belief in the Trump campaign, as articulated by campaign manager Brad Parscale, is that the President has a winning message focused on the economy for Hispanic voters. (Nearly half of New Mexico’s population is Hispanic.)
There’s scant polling evidence to suggest that Trump has an opening with Hispanic voters. In a September CNN-SSRS poll, two-thirds of Latino voters disapproved of the job the President was doing.
The Point: There’s no debate that Trump almost certainly needs to expand the electoral map to win a second term. It’s far less clear whether he can actually pull it off again.