ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – After months of being treated as an election afterthought, New Mexico is suddenly getting more attention from both campaigns with one week to go until Election Day.
New Mexico was believed to be safe ground for Hillary Clinton and Democrats after Barack Obama won the state by significant margins in 2008 and 2012. And while public polls have shown Clinton with the lead in the state, Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign claims internal polls show the race for the state’s five electoral votes is a dead heat.
To that effect, Trump’s campaign has started buying ad time in the state, estimated at close to $200,000. Trump himself has already visited Albuquerque twice, including a Sunday rally near the Sunport, while his running mate Mike Pence is set to make his third campaign stop in New Mexico on Wednesday when he visits Las Cruces.
The Clinton campaign is also starting to spend on ads in New Mexico, a six-figure investment, but neither Hillary Clinton herself nor her running mate Tim Kaine have held public campaign events in the state this year.
“This is perceived as Clinton country so to speak but you don’t want to take that for granted in an election cycle like this,” said UNM political science professor Gabriel Sanchez.
One reason the Clinton campaign could still be optimistic is an edge in the early vote cast so far.
According to numbers released by the New Mexico Secretary of State, 278,875 voters have cast their ballot early and 41,804 absentee ballots have been returned. For perspective, 786,522 votes were cast in New Mexico in 2012, meaning more than a third of the likely vote is already in.
Those numbers show about 50 percent of the early and absentee vote was from registered Democrats while 36 percent of that same vote came from registered Republicans.
“There’s still a bit of time here and anything could happen that could really galvanize turnout on the Trump side,” said Sanchez “So I think it’s going to be tighter than what a lot of folks think it’ll be but I still think Clinton pulls this out.”
The big unknown is how well Libertarian nominee and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson will perform. He’s typically polled in the double digits in the state although it’s unclear whether that’s hurting Clinton or Trump more.
Overlooking New Mexico nearly cost Clinton a win in New Mexico during the June primary against Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT. Sanders visited the state for a rally while Clinton did not, and Sanders nearly pulled off an upset win. That came in June after it appeared Clinton already had the delegates and superdelegates necessary to clinch the Democratic nomination.