Sashaying to the podium set up at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for Republican National Convention, Gov. Susana Martinez was introduced to the nation as the "first female Hispanic governor in the history of the United States."
Her appearance on behalf of the white-dude Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan presidential ticket comes as the GOP struggles to convince the non-white, female electorate that Republicans are on their side.
"It was an effort to reach out to minorities," says state House Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe, of the Republicans' choice of Martinez. "When you look at the polls Romney is not very popular in terms of minorities."
Meanwhile, New Mexico Republicans are also having to deal with the pesky controversy created by leaked emails from Republican National Committee member Pat Rogers. The emails work against the Republican objective to attract minorities. One shows the Albuquerque lobbyist joking to top Martinez officials that the governor "dishonored" Col. George Armstrong Custer in meeting with the state's tribal leaders.
Republicans in New Mexico are nevertheless standing by the attorney with longstanding ties to the party.
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez tells SFR that Rogers email isn't something the New Mexico delegation has focused on.
"The truth is we've been so focused--laser focused--on the convention: to make sure we get Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan nominated," he said from Tampa in a conference call with reporters. "The issue of the email question hasn't been something I've really put a lot of priority [into]."
Gov. Martinez told the Albuquerque Journal that Rogers apologized and she forgave him.
“It was a poor attempt at humor, but he apologized and we need to move on," she said. "I’m sure it was offensive and he apologized."
“He has done fabulous work for the Republican Party for decades,” Martinez added.
Republicans are struggling with Hispanics--a voting bloc that gets more important every election as it grows--in particular. In an impreMedia/Latino Decisions weekly tracking poll among 300 registered Latino voters, 45 percent of respondents had a very favorable impression of President Barack Obama. Only ten percent had a very favorable impression of Romney. In New Mexico, which has the largest share of Hispanic voters in the nation, Obama has a comfortable lead in the polls. A recent poll by Rasmussen Reports showed Obama leading Romney 52 percent to 38 percent.
Varela, for his part, says Martinez spoke "very well."
"She spoke about herself," he noted.
In her speech (full text here) the governor touts her hardscrabble upbringing by a Marine Corps, Golden Gloves boxer father who became a deputy sheriff and an office assistant mother who did the books at night. As a child, she carried a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum that "weighed more than I did!"
The American Dream speech, familiar to New Mexicans, was heavy on her unique biography and short on policy. It wasn't too much unlike President Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention address.
The takeaway: Martinez says that, in many ways, she's "very different" from Romney. Nevertheless, he's the guy who's going to "protect the American Dream" that made it possible for Martinez's rise to the governorship of New Mexico.
"As the first Hispanic female governor in history, little girls often come up to me in the grocery store or the mall," she says.
Being a Hispanic female governor is one thing. But Martinez emphasized she's a Hispanic female Republican governor.
"I'll be damned, we're Republicans," Martinez says she told her husband after lunch with two GOPers trying to convince her to switch parties.
Her party hopes a similar conversion will happen among minorities this November. Yet Republicans might need more than a speech.