Home News Local News Martinez to GOP candidates: Reach across partisan divide

Martinez to GOP candidates: Reach across partisan divide

Former Gov. Susana Martinez speaking Wednesday at the June meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women. In her address, the former two-term governor said Republican candidates need to reach out to some Democratic voters in order to once again be competitive in statewide elections in New Mexico. (Alex Ross Photo)

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Former Gov. Susana Martinez said Republican candidates in New Mexico will need to broaden their appeal and reach across the partisan divide in order to make a comeback at the ballot box.

“If you are a statewide candidate as a Republican, you better go to places that sometimes make you feel uncomfortable and talk about issues that are important to their families, their children,” Martinez said when speaking to an audience at the June meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women in Roswell Wednesday.

Martinez’s remarks come as Republicans have seen their electoral fortunes diminish in recent election cycles in New Mexico. In 2018, Democrats coasted to victory in contests up and down the ballot in New Mexico, winning all statewide elected offices and increasing their majorities in the New Mexico House. And they occupy four of the state’s five congressional seats and hold a majority in the New Mexico Senate.

But Martinez, who in 2010 made history as New Mexico’s first female governor and the nation’s first Latina governor, said while it might be tough, Republicans can be competitive in statewide races again if they appeal to every voter they can — including registered Democrats.

In New Mexico, where according to data provided by the Secretary of State’s Office only 31.2% of voters are registered Republicans, Martinez said having some support from Democratic voters is crucial.

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She added that Republican stances on reducing crime, scaling back state spending, low taxes and tougher education standards resonate with more conservative and moderate Democrats.

“I always knew from the first race, we’ve got to get to talking to Democrats that agree with us on policy,” Martinez said.

A former Democrat herself, Martinez switched her party affiliation in 1995, shortly before running for the first of four terms as District Attorney in Dona Ana County.

When she decided to make a run for the Republican nomination for governor, Martinez said she faced long odds and low name recognition.

For the next 16 months — during both the Republican primary and general election — Martinez said she crisscrossed the state to raise her profile and shore up support.

That included trips made to counties, communities and constituencies that are typically ignored by Republicans, such as Las Vegas, New Mexico.

“I never used the word Republican or Democrat. I asked all of them for their vote. And then I stuck around to the very end because I wanted to meet them all.”

But Martinez said that when she went to those communities she did not alter her message.

In one episode on the campaign trial, she remembers speaking to a Hispanic crowd in Las Vegas about her opposition to a law in New Mexico at the time that provided driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, and about how she wanted to do away with sanctuary cities in the state.

“I didn’t change my message,” she said. However, she also did not know what reaction she would get among the heavily Hispanic local population. Much to her surprise, the statements were met with applause.

But for some, bucking their party was not easy. Martinez said some people would often talk about how their parents and other family members were loyal Democrats.

“And I tell them ‘I get it.’ I am not asking you to switch parties. I am asking you to go into that little box, that space where you vote, that you vote for people who are in the best interest of what you believe in,” she said.

Martinez said in order to prevail in the coming elections, she also believes Republicans must remain united, avoid infighting, coalesce around candidates that can win and not let disagreements divide them.

“If we disagree, we go into a little room and we disagree. But we need to walk out of there as one,” she said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.