Editor’s note: Read our coverage of the tense scene outside Pence’s rally here.
They were men, women and children. They were old and young. They were white and Latino. The several hundred people who turned out to hear Mike Pence speak in Las Cruces on Wednesday warmly welcomed the Republican vice presidential nominee.
Pence, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate, arrived at the Las Cruces International Airport in a Trump campaign Boeing 737 and was greeted by a crowd of people wearing shirts with slogans like “Trump 2016” and “Hillary for Prison 2016.”
“I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican,” Pence said at the rally, which was held in a hangar with his plane behind him and a light rain falling outside.
During his speech, Pence said the choice in the election is not between two candidates, but between two futures. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, he said, “personifies a failed establishment in Washington, D.C.”
“I choose a stronger America, a more prosperous America,” he said.
That’s the path Americans can choose, Pence said, by voting for Trump, who he said embodies the American spirit – “strong, freedom-loving, independent, optimistic and willing to fight everyday for what he believes in.”
Pence said he accepted the invitation to be Trump’s running mate “in a heartbeat.”
“Because you have nominated a man for president who never quits,” Pence said. “He is a fighter, he is a winner, and until very recently, it seemed he was out there fighting all on his own – but now this movement is coming together, New Mexico is coming together.”
Pence’s rally came days before the Nov. 8 election and as polls in New Mexico and across the nation are tightening. Trump insisted at a campaign event in Albuquerque on Sunday that he can win New Mexico and has directed new attention here. His son, Donald Trump Jr., will hold rallies in Farmington and Shiprock later this week.
In Las Cruces on Wednesday, meanwhile, Pence spoke about Trump’s now-familiar plans if elected, though he was at times thin on details.
“Donald Trump’s got a plan in the first 100 days to pass ethics reform in our nation’s capital with a newly re-elected Republican majority leader in the House – and in the Senate, we’re going to ‘drain the swamp,’” Pence said.
The history of that phrase goes back to at least Republican President Ronald Reagan, who said “draining the swamp” of big government— rooting out corruption— was his primary mission.
Pence criticized the foreign policies of current President Barack Obama and Clinton, saying removing U.S. troops from the Middle East allowed the Islamic State’s rise to power.
“We will hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source,” Pence said.
Pence also spoke about Trump’s plan to “end illegal immigration once and for all.”
“Donald Trump has a plan: We’ll build a wall,” Pence said. “We’ll have zero tolerance for criminal aliens and we’re going to remove criminal illegal aliens from the country.”
On the economy, Pence said Trump also had a plan: “After we re-elect strong Republican majorities in the House and in the Senate, in the first 100 days we’re going to cut taxes across the board for working families and small businesses,” he said.
Trump will also repeal all of Obama’s executive orders, renegotiate NAFTA, and pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Pence said.
“Once again, trade will mean American jobs first,” he said.
On health care, Pence said Trump plans to repeal Obamacare.
“We’re going to give consumers more choices,” Pence said. “We’re going to let people buy health insurance across state lines, the way they buy car insurance, the way they buy life insurance. We’re going to let the power of the American free market lower the cost of health insurance.”
At one point during Pence’s speech, the crowd started a chant of “Lock her up!” – referring to Clinton. Pence said he and the rest of Trump’s campaign team are glad the FBI has reopened the investigation of classified emails Clinton sent using a private server. The situation, Pence said, is a reason that New Mexicans must help ensure “that Hillary Clinton is never elected president.”
FBI Director James Comey recently said new emails were found, prompting the additional investigation. Clinton has denied hiding emails and has called for the FBI to release all the emails the agency has to the public.
Before Pence’s speech, some New Mexico Republicans warmed up the crowd and voiced support for Trump and Pence.
“We must make the federal and state governments more efficient, more respective and more accountable and transparent,” said Las Cruces City Councilor Ceil Levatino, who is running for the District 37 seat in the New Mexico Senate. “I’ll work toward that goal in Santa Fe, and I believe Trump and Pence will do that in Washington, D.C.”
“Drain the swamp,” Levatino said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who is seeking re-election this year, voiced strong support for Trump and Pence.
“I hear people every day expressing concerns about what Mr. Trump says,” he said. “I’m more worried about what (Clinton) does.”
That matches what Pearce has said previously in response to the release of a 2005 video in which Trump describes sexually assaulting women. Pearce has said he thinks Trump’s comments were “horrid” but has continued supporting him, saying he can’t even consider backing Clinton.
Pearce said he expects New Mexico to vote for Trump. Recent poll numbers suggest that’s possible. An Oct. 24 poll of likely New Mexico voters showed Trump within five percentage points, 45-40 percent, of Clinton in New Mexico.
One elected Republican who previously said he wouldn’t support Trump because of the presidential candidate’s comments about women also showed up on stage at Pence’s rally. Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, who is up for re-election this year, briefly took the stage to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. He said nothing about the presidential race.
A prior version of this posting incorrectly identified Nuñez as a Democrat.