SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — It was a stunning rebuke — even by Donald Trump’s standards — aimed at the nation’s only Latina governor at a political rally in her home state of New Mexico.
Trump chastised Republican Gov. Susana Martinez for not doing her job when it came to unemployment, federal food aid and even containing the Syrian refugee crisis while he stumped at a raucous political rally this week in the nation’s most Hispanic state. Martinez, who has not endorsed the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, skipped the event in Albuquerque, citing a busy schedule.
The public spat dampened any lingering speculation that Martinez might be picked as vice president to attract more female and minority voters to the Republican ticket. It also thrust the second-term governor into the company of other prominent Republicans who have withstood attacks as Trump attempts to consolidate support ahead of the final round of primaries that includes New Mexico and California.
Key politicians rushed to Martinez’s defense, including U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Martinez endorsed for the presidential nomination in March as his campaign faltered.
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“Susana Martinez is a great governor, she turned deficits into surpluses, she cut taxes,” Ryan told reporters this week.
Bush tweeted that Martinez is “the future of our party,” and Walker said Martinez had driven conservative reforms in a state that President Barack Obama won twice.
At Tuesday’s rally in Albuquerque, where protesters hurled burning T-shirts and overran barricades, Trump described New Mexico as a state beset by unemployment and rising dependence on federal food assistance, placing the blame squarely on Martinez.
“Your governor has got to do a better job,” Trump said. “She’s not doing the job. Hey, maybe I’ll run for governor of New Mexico. I’ll get this place going.”
Asked about Martinez at a news conference Thursday, Trump acknowledged that she had favored another Republican candidate but added, “I imagine she’ll come over to my side.”
Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said the governor “will not be bullied into supporting” Trump, describing the accusations as political pot shots. The governor’s office fired back that the billionaire businessman had used economic data dating to 2000, a decade before Martinez was elected, to exaggerate trends while overlooking her efforts to tie food benefits to work-related requirements.
Trump also said Syrian refugees arrived in “large numbers” to New Mexico, when the tally since 2011 is 10.
Martinez, who is chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association, has resisted endorsing Trump as she crisscrossed the country to speak at GOP conventions and fundraisers. She needs to know more about his plans to support New Mexico’s national weapons laboratories and military bases and ensure other federal funding to the state, a spokesman says.
For Martinez, Trump’s rise has quickly shifted her assured standing in the party. His comments struck at an open political wound, after members of the state Republican Party have assailed the governor and a top political adviser for their handling of the economy amid an oil and gas downturn. Unemployment in the state has fallen gradually to 6.2 percent in April, leaving New Mexico among the five worst states for jobs.
Signs of tensions with Trump emerged last summer when Martinez, whose paternal grandparents came to the U.S. from Mexico in the early 1900s, criticized his comments that Mexican immigrants bring drugs and crime and are rapists. More recently, Martinez said Trump’s plans for a bigger border wall would put trade relations with Mexico and other Latin American countries at risk.
But the governor has taken a hard line on immigration enforcement, including a five-year effort to do away with New Mexico’s policy of issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally.
Those policies and aggressive border enforcement are applauded by Hispanic Republicans including Rowena Baca, an alternate New Mexico delegate to this summer’s Republican National Convention who calls Martinez a friend.
Baca chalked up the standoff with Trump to a personality clash between the brash billionaire and former district attorney from Las Cruces who has dealt firsthand with smuggling cartels at the border.
“They’re both on the same level, the same conservatism,” said Baca, a business owner in San Antonio, New Mexico.
Trump has vowed to return to New Mexico before the general election and win a state where Democrats account for 47 percent of registered voters.
His rhetoric about building a border wall and mass deportations doesn’t necessarily spell political doom in a state were more than 45 percent of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, outnumbering non-Hispanic whites, Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said.
Hispanics in New Mexico are less likely to be foreign-born than in Nevada or California, making attitudes unpredictable toward immigration policy and enforcement, Sanderoff said. New Mexico doesn’t track race and ethnicity among registered voters.
“If you’re a New Mexico Hispanic who proudly traces your lineage here to the 1600s, you may not be as sympathetic toward illegal immigrants as some would think,” he said.
Associated Press writers Russell Contreras in Albuquerque and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.