As Joe Biden's VP, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham Could Bring Out Critical Latino Vote to Help Him Win

As Joe Biden faces pressure to choose a black woman as his running mate, Democrats said choosing a Latina could boost his electoral chances—particularly when that Latina is New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, one of the six women on his shortlist.

Lujan Grisham, 60, has what Biden is looking for: She has been in Congress, she has executive experience and it doesn't hurt that she's been front and center in recent months.

Latino Democrats told Newsweek she has skillfully navigated the twin crises that have gripped the country. New Mexico stands as one of the poorest states in the nation and has half the health care infrastructure of any other state, meaning that if the coronavirus outbreak hit the southwest state hard, many people would die, Lujan Grisham said in a recent Rolling Stone interview.

The former congresswoman, who also served as the state's secretary of health, moved quickly, declaring a statewide health emergency on March 11 when there were only four cases in New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham is critical of the Trump administration's response to COVID-19 and told Rolling Stone she became "the testing expert," learning how the instruments the state had could be calibrated to administer tests for the virus, and calling the CEOs of manufacturing companies daily until New Mexico was in the queue to receive tests.

Those early actions, which included closings of schools and businesses, quarantining people crossing state borders for two weeks, and taking the temperatures of truckers traversing the state, led New Mexico to avert disaster, with it now standing third in per capita tests in the nation, behind only Rhode Island and New York, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Overall, the state has seen 9,845 cases and 440 deaths.

"Her record with respect to COVID is incredible," said Kristian Ramos, a Democratic strategist, who specializes in the Latino vote. "The situation could frankly have been devastating, but because of her executive management it came out well and that speaks to her bonafides as a VP pick outside of her ethnicity."

When the vice-presidential search began, Democrats touted a progressive woman such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as a candidate who could win back disillusioned supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, or moderates such as Senator Amy Klobuchar who could help with midwest voters. They also suggested a woman of color, such as Senator Kamala Harris to round out the ticket. With Klobuchar's appeal fading and as African-American leaders call for a black woman VP, Biden also now is considering Representative Val Demings, former national security advisor Susan Rice, and Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

But allies of Lujan Grisham said more buzz should be made about her because choosing a Latina bolsters Biden's chances for winning.

Nathalie Rayes, president of Latino Victory, told Newsweek Grisham is "the full package" for the VP role. "When Latinas or Latinos are on the ballot, Latinos come out to vote," she said.

During the primary, Biden lost the neighboring southwest states of Nevada and Colorado, which are heavily Latino, while Lujan Grisham leads New Mexico, a state that is 49 percent Hispanic, the highest proportion in the nation. While she beat her 2018 Republican opponent for governor by 14 points, she won each of the three most-Latino counties by 40 to 50 points, according to exit polls.

"Her impact would be felt in the southwest and Texas," said Aaron Trujillo, a former chief of staff to Ben Ray Lujan, who is unrelated to her. "New Mexico has elected Republicans like Susana Martinez and voted for Republican presidents before, and she would be able to excite and pull voters that could be swing voters."

But the New Mexico governor has also faced controversy in dealing with the coronavirus crisis and the protests against police brutality. She said that the familial and caregiving culture among Native Americans has been their "Achilles heel" during the outbreak, representing more than 50 percent of cases in the state. But a ProPublica report Saturday found that pregnant Native American mothers were being racially-profiled and singled out for testing in a New Mexico hospital. Lujan Grisham responded on Twitter Sunday, saying that they were "significant, awful allegations and, if true, a disgusting and unforgivable violation of patient rights."

Because Native Americans are not under local jurisdiction, the federal government is in charge of testing the community and their hospitals. Lujan Grisham called the high infection rates and devastation among the tribes in the state "a complete failure of the federal government."

There was also a confrontation in Albuquerque between protesters looking to take down a statue of a Spanish despot and armed right-wing militia members, which turned violent Monday. One man was shot, and another taken into custody. Lujan Grisham said in a statement that "there is absolutely no space in New Mexico for any violent would-be 'militia' seeking to terrorize New Mexicans."

Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki declined a Newsweek request for comment, citing "COVID and everything else we're managing."

Despite her place on the shortlist, Latino Democrats don't expect Lujan Grisham to be the pick, recalling that Julian Castro made it onto Hillary Clinton's shortlist in 2016, but went no further. Latinos are always the bridesmaid, they said, never the bride.

"For a few cycles now it feels like Latinos are part of the show but never the pick," a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told Newsweek.

Andres Ramirez, a veteran Las Vegas-based Democratic strategist said the conversation about the voters at the heart of the Democratic Party has been ongoing for years, that black women are the most loyal part of the party's coalition. Their hopes may finally come to fruition for black Democrats—in a way Latinos haven't been able to crack yet.

"The reality is a black woman has always seemed to be a frontrunner throughout this process and the moment we're in further amplifies that," he told Newsweek.

Michelle lujan Grisham
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) speaks at a press conference calling for the passage of the Dream Act at the U.S. Capitol January 18, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Without legislative action thousands of recipients of the Dream Act will be at risk of deportation. Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images/Getty