(TAMPA, Fla.) — If you don’t live in New Mexico, you probably aren’t familiar with Gov. Susana Martinez — but Republicans are hoping that will soon change.
Martinez, 53, will be introducing vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan Wednesday night — a prime speaking slot for the newcomer to the scene.
Martinez is a triple threat for Republicans: She’s female, she’s Hispanic and she’s a former Democrat. Her story is one that Republicans hope will resonate with Hispanic voters everywhere, and Wednesday night is her big introduction onto the national stage.
Elected in 2010, Martinez is the nation’s first Latina governor. She’s popular in her state, with recent polling showing her approval rating above 50 percent.
With 6.7-percent unemployment, New Mexico boasts a rate lower than the national average and Martinez herself has the distinction of being a conservative governor in a state that tends to swing towards Democrats.
Unsurprisingly, Martinez was rumored to be a potential vice presidential running mate for Mitt Romney, but she vehemently denied wanting the position. She is the guardian for her disabled sister and moving her was not an option, Martinez said.
Martinez hasn’t always agreed with Romney, but she’s emphasized her support even when voicing disagreement.
In an interview with Newsweek in May 2012, Martinez was asked about Romney’s self-deportation idea. Martinez’s response: “Self-deport? What the heck does that mean? … I have no doubt Hispanics have been alienated during this campaign. But now there’s an opportunity for Gov. Romney to have a sincere conversation about what we can do and why.”
The speaker lineup for the 2012 Republican National Convention makes it clear that Republicans are trying to showcase the new faces of the party. They are young and diverse, and convention delegates are excited about the new faces.
“Seeing all of these kind of people,” Oklahoma delegate DeWayne McAnally told ABC News on Tuesday, “you’re saying, ‘OK, we’ve got people coming up that’s gonna change the party’s image to that of people of color, and women and all this.’ It’s not just — People can’t look at us as the old, white man’s party anymore.”
What’s probably most appealing to Republicans about Martinez, however, is her personal story. Martinez grew up as a Democrat.
That changed in 1996, however, when she and her husband, Chuck Franco, took a meeting with Republican Party officials to discuss a potential run for office. At the time, Martinez was a prosecutor and considering making a run for public office. The lunch was supposed to be a formality, but after talking with the representatives of the party, Martinez realized that her conservative views actually aligned more with Republicans than Democrats.
Later that year, Martinez was elected as a Republican district attorney in Dona Ana County, N.M., a position she held until she was elected governor.
Hispanic voters made up nine percent of the total voting population in 2008 and Obama carried that population handily — 67 percent to John McCain’s 31 percent. Although Martinez is not on the ballot, Republicans hope that her message can help move some of those numbers.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Tom LoBianco, CNN
Allie Malloy and Wesley Bruer, CNN Newswire