ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Just five days out from the November election, President Joe Biden arrived in New Mexico Thursday for a series of events in Albuquerque through the afternoon. It marks the second time Biden has come to New Mexico in 2022 after winning the state by nearly 10 points in the 2020 election.

Facing a consequential midterm that’s likely to reshape the balance of power in Congress, Biden headlined two events in Albuquerque Thursday. Across both outings, the President touted his administration’s accomplishments, praised the state’s Democratic lawmakers, while also attempting to drum up voter excitement.

Meanwhile, Republicans in key midterm races offered their take on Biden’s visit. Among them, Congresswoman Yvette Herrell and gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti described the visit as a “missed opportunity,” also calling out the President for high inflation among other factors.

The President at CNM

After landing in Air Force One at Kirtland Air Force Base around 12:20 p.m., Biden started his Albuquerque visit with a speech on higher education at Albuquerque’s Central New Mexico Community College (CNM).

Delivering prepared remarks about access to higher education, the President’s first event was invitation only with a crowd of lawmakers, students and local officials in the audience. Biden spoke of his administration’s fledgling student loan debt relief program.

The President says over 200,000 people in New Mexico have student loan debt, with the average New Mexican borrowers owing around $34,000 in debt. According to the Biden Administration, those earning under $125,000 a year can receive up to $10,000 in debt forgiveness. Those earning under $125,000 a year who received a Pell grant can also receive up to $10,000 in debt forgiveness on that Pell grant.

“In New Mexico, more than 150,000 borrowers received Pell grants to go to college,” Biden said. “That’s 150,000 New Mexicans who will get $20,000 of their loan wiped off, plain and simple. It matters.”

The President tweeted Thursday that 26-million Americans have have already applied for debt forgiveness, while roughly 16-million of those applications have been approved. No payments have been distributed yet though, as the plan remains locked up in U.S. courts.

“My plan is going to make a real difference in lowering the monthly cost for families as well,” Biden said in Albuquerque Thursday. “More than 40-million Americans stand to benefit from this relief.”

The President’s remarks were preceded by a series of speeches from Democratic lawmakers, including Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Biden called Lujan Grisham “if not the best, one of the best” governors in the U.S. He praised the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program for offering free college tuition for those who haven’t earned a degree.

“It’s no surprise New Mexico has seen one of the fastest, I think one or two fastest growing increase in college enrollment in the state, anywhere in the country, the other one is New Hampshire,” Biden said. “Understand why this is important. It is important because her leadership is an example for states all across the country.”

Biden headlines political rally

At a second stop Thursday, Biden served as the keynote speaker at a New Mexico Democratic Party rally at the Ted M. Gallegos Community Center on in Albuquerque’s South Valley near Coors and Tower. Hundreds inside and outside of the rally.

The location of the rally is notable in that is sits in the newly redrawn Congressional District 2 (CD2,) currently represented by Republican Yvette Herrell. For the first time since lawmakers redrew voting maps via the redistricting process, Albuquerque’s westside and South Valley voters will voting in the CD2 races between incumbent Herrell, and Democratic challenger Gabe Vasquez.

While Vasquez was mentioned by President Biden during Thursday’s rally and by several other Democrats, the former Las Cruces city councilor did not attend the rally. In a statement, Vasquez’s campaign spokesman Robert Phillips told KRQE News 13, in part, “With one of the largest districts in the country and multiple voter outreach activities in Luna and Doña Ana Counties already planned, he was unable to be in Albuquerque on Thursday.”

“Five days,” Biden remarked. “Five days to go and until the most important election of our lifetime. That’s not hyperbole. It’s going to shape what the next two generations look like. not a joke because so much is changing, so much.”

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Republican response

Two high-profile Republican candidates offered their take on Biden’s visit to KRQE News 13 Thursday. Congresswoman Yvette Herrell referred to the visit, in part, as “unfortunate,” referring to issues that have emerged during the Biden administration.

“It’s unfortunate that we have the person who’s response for the highest inflation rates we’ve seen in 40 years, the price of gas, fuel, we still have baby food storages, a wide open border, people dying of fentanyl,” Rep. Herrell said. “And, you know, here we have Democrats choose to clamor to this, and that’s part of our problem, we need real leadership in Washington D.C. and that’s why I want to hold this seat and take our common sense values back to Washington, not bring Washington to New Mexico.”

Republican Gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti referred to Biden’s visit as a “desperate” move by his challenger, incumbent Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Ronchetti was a topic of discussion during both of Biden’s events Thursday.

“She sees this race slipping away,” Ronchetti said. “We have the momentum, but I think bringing Joe Biden in here just reminds people of the fact when he took office, we had low inflation rates. now they’re sky-high. Prices are sky-high, prices at the pump, the grocery store, and he’s got no plan to fix it. And the reality is instead of talking about those issues that are important to people, they’re not going to talk about any of those issues. They’re going to turn everything political, and I think it’s a real missed opportunity.”

This is the second time President Joe Biden has visited New Mexico in 2022, and since his election in November 2020. Earlier this year, Biden visited Santa Fe in June to receive a briefing on the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire.

As the President is expected to depart from Albuquerque this evening, Albuquerque Police is warning drivers to avoid the area south of I-40. That includes areas in southeast and southwest Albuquerque through about 7 p.m. Thursday.

The Albuquerque Sunport is also expected to see travel impacted around the time of the President’s arrival, likely before noon. Travelers in and out of Albuquerque should expect the possibility of flight delays around the time of the President’s arrival and departure.