New Mexico governor Susana Martinez once worked a guard for her parents’ security business and, as she told the Republican National Convention Wednesday night, her father wanted to make sure she could protect herself.
“I carried a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum,” Martinez said. “That gun weighed more than I did!”
The crowd loved it, and for the rest of the speech, the audience was hers. That was no easy task though; Martinez was wedged right in between Condoleezza Rice, easily the Republican party’s most popular female figure, and Paul Ryan, the vice presidential nominee and intellectual star of the right. Rice delivered a rousing stem-winder, too, making her a tough act for Martinez to follow.
But Martinez held her own in an address that introduced the country to its first female Hispanic governor and made an effective pitch to Latino voters. Born in El Paso and descended from a hero of the Mexican Revolution, Martinez grew up, like most New Mexicans of Hispanic descent, a Democrat. Her telling of her conversion to the Republican party was aimed less at the GOP delegates seated before and more to those Hispanic Democrats and independents watching at home.
Before she ran for district attorney in Doña Ana County in 1996, two local Republicans invited Martinez and her husband to lunch. Martinez said she knew what they were after: a party switch.
“So, I told Chuck, ‘we'll be polite, enjoy a free lunch and then say goodbye,’” Martinez said. “But we talked about issues. They never used the words Republican, or Democrat, conservative or liberal.” They talked, she said, about welfare and the size of government, about taxes and small businesses.
Then, Martinez delivered the night’s most memorable line.
“And when we left that lunch, we got in the car and I looked over at Chuck and said, ‘I'll be damned, we're Republicans.’” That brought the house down.
Hispanic voters may not convert, en masse, to the GOP as Martinez did. But unlike other Latino Republican luminaries like Cuban-Americans Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, her Mexican-American, middle class background may connect to more Hispanics on a personal level. So, too, could her appeal to those voters’ disappointments with the Obama administration.
“He promised to bring us all together, to cut unemployment, to pass immigration reform in his first year and even promised to cut the deficit in half in his first term,” Martinez said, now staring straight into the camera. “Do you remember that?”
The delegates answered with a loud, “Yes.” The Republican party and Mitt Romney are hoping Hispanic voters watching at home joined in.