Sanders seeks out Democrats in heavily Hispanic New Mexico

Sanders and Hillary Clinton are chasing a share of New Mexico's 43 delegate votes

FILE - In this May 2, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speaks during a campaign rally in Fort Wayne, Ind. Sanders is courting Democratic voters in the heavily Hispanic state of New Mexico with a trio of public rallies scheduled ahead of the state’s primary. Sanders will speak Friday, May 20, 2016, at a community college in the state capital of Santa Fe before heading to Albuquerque. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Sen. Bernie Sanders is courting Democrats in the heavily Hispanic state of New Mexico with a trio of public rallies starting Friday ahead of the state’s vote in the final round of primary elections.

Sanders will kick off his two-day visit with a rally at a community college in the state capital of Santa Fe before heading to Albuquerque for an evening event. On Saturday, he’ll stop in the town of Vado, not far from where the borders of New Mexico, Texas and Mexico intersect.

Sanders and Hillary Clinton are chasing a share of New Mexico’s 43 delegate votes on the final day of state primaries, June 7. Five out of nine state superdelegates have expressed their commitment to Clinton, with the remainder uncommitted.

Sanders is coming off a primary victory Tuesday in Oregon and a near tie in Kentucky, but he still has no clear path to victory in the delegate count.

The Vermont senator is the first presidential candidate to visit New Mexico. Donald Trump on Thursday announced plans to visit early next week, overlapping with a scheduled visit by Bill Clinton to campaign on behalf of his wife in the cities of Espanola and later Albuquerque.

The state is shaping up as a proving ground for appeal to Hispanic voters. Over 45 percent of New Mexico residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino — a higher percentage than resident Anglos.

On Saturday, former Interior Sec. Ken Salazar plans to tour the heavily Democratic northern end of the state for an initiative dubbed “Hispanics for Hillary.”

Albuquerque-based pollster Brian Sanderoff says at least half of Democratic primary voters in the state will be Hispanic, a demographic where Hillary appears to hold an edge.

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, is helping Sanders drum up support among Latinos but acknowledges it’s an uphill climb.

“I think they’re getting more and more curious about Sanders,” he said. “He comes from such a small New England state with such a tiny Hispanic population. People just don’t know his name.”

Beyond New Mexico, the tone in both Democratic campaigns has grown more acrimonious after last weekend’s fracas at the Nevada Democratic Convention. A group of Sanders supporters lashed out over rules they claimed favored Clinton by shouting obscenities, brandishing chairs and threatening the state party chairwoman.

Sanders has defiantly asserted since then that his supporters were treated unfairly, as he has sharpened his critique of the Democratic Party and Clinton’s reliance on wealthy donors.

In Santa Fe, the two Democratic presidential campaigns work out of the same brown adobe union hall, with volunteers gathering at night to dial up potential voters.

“We have agreed to co-exist respectfully and courteously with each other,” said Susan Popovich, the Sanders office manager and retired union organizer for the California Teachers Association.

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