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New Mexico voters turn their focus to races further down the ballot

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

New Mexico is one of the last states to hold a presidential primary this year. So today, with the nominees for both major parties essentially locked up, voters in the land of enchantment have turned their focus farther down the ballot. Reporting from Albuquerque, we are joined by NPR politics reporter Ben Giles. Hey, Ben.

BEN GILES, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: All right, so take us way down the ballot. What races are people there in New Mexico watching today?

GILES: Well, most of the action today is at the legislative and local levels. Every seat in the state House and Senate is up for grabs this year. I spoke with voters in Albuquerque and in southern New Mexico. Republicans and Democrats alike, they all say there's hope in a strategy to get voters engaged early to ensure they stay engaged come November.

For instance, Republicans in Bernalillo County - that's home to Democratic-leaning Albuquerque - they were abuzz because they have contested GOP primaries for some House and Senate races at the legislative level. That's a first for them. In the past, they say it's been a struggle to get Republicans to run at all in some of those races. But those races are attracting the attention of Republican voters, and they hope that attention will stick.

KELLY: This is interesting because we hear a lot about candidates down the ballot riding the coattails of presidential contenders. You are saying there's hope that maybe enthusiasm for these downballot races will trickle up?

GILES: That's right. And that hope is also on the Democratic side as well. I spent some time this weekend in Las Cruces, where volunteers were knocking on doors for Congressman Gabe Vasquez in southern New Mexico. Vasquez narrowly defeated former Representative Yvette Herrell in 2022. Their rematch this fall is garnering a lot of attention.

Now, no one's running against Vasquez for the Democratic nomination, but he and his volunteers, like Rita Triviz, said it was still important to start engaging voters now, even in uncontested races, rather than wait until November. And Triviz had a message for Democrats who might be lacking in enthusiasm, especially at the top of the ticket.

RITA TRIVIZ: And I hope people understand that instead of pout, you know? Somebody said just get on the bus. It may not take you exactly to the Garden of Eden, but if it gets you closer to there, take the bus. And Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are a limo for me.

GILES: And clearly, she's a big supporter of the Democratic presidential ticket, but she's also discouraged by a lack of enthusiasm even among some strong Democrats. I spoke with another young Vasquez volunteer who said he cast an uncommitted vote in the Democratic primary.

KELLY: I'm tempted to ask you more about limos in the Garden of Eden, but instead I will ask, where does that leave Trump? I mean, if young voters in New Mexico are dissatisfied with Biden, might Trump be trying to pick them up?

GILES: Sure, but it's not necessarily a clean trade. We are seeing a lot of that at the national level, these so-called double haters who view both Biden and Trump unfavorably. Daphne Orner is the vice chair of the Bernalillo County Republicans. I asked her if GOP messaging is registrating (ph) - resonating, excuse me, with young voters there. She said, yes, particularly in the wake of Trump's criminal conviction last week.

DAPHNE ORNER: When the verdict came down on Trump, they're saying, OK, I've had enough now. But to get them active and doing anything, the majority of our party is kind of what you see in this room. We're no spring chickens.

GILES: And in that room Daphne was referring to, the County GOP headquarters, it was full of a handful of mostly older volunteers. So it's maybe not picking up steam, but they're hoping it will. There's definitely an effort to use the Trump conviction to activate a new generation of Republican voters here.

KELLY: That is NPR's Ben Giles reporting from Albuquerque. Thank you, Ben.

GILES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CODY FRANCIS' "MOUNTAIN AIR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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