The primary is coming to a close, and it’s time to pick a side.
With relatively low turnout in early voting, we’re hoping there’s a big showing on Election Day. Residents should vote their conscience, whoever they pick.
Values matter, and because the quality of each candidate’s primary campaign signals how effective they’ll be in November, electability matters too. For a Republican to flip Democrat-held seats in a majority-blue state, they have to attract Democrat voters in the general election. That’s why we’re backing Mark Ronchetti.
A lot of mud has been flung during this primary. We’ve done our best to fact check and contextualize many of the attacks waged between candidates.
Here, we examine some of the reasons that went into our decision to vote Ronchetti in the primary.
Did Mark Do Dow Dirty?
Last week, we wrote in “It’s Time to Redefine ‘Negative’ Campaigning” about the difference between campaign ads that were “not positive” and those that were factually incorrect. Some Conservatives in the state, as well as some Democrats, argued that Ronchetti’s ad exposing a child molestation case at state legislator Rebecca Dow’s daycare was unfair and should have been off limits.
Dow’s daycare scandal was as fair game in the primary as it would have been in the general election.
Based on the news reports and court records that are available, the ad Ronchetti ran was true. KOAT fact-checked it. We fact-checked it. The Ronchetti campaign itself fact-checked it, putting all of the documentation from the case online, at DowRecord.com. If there was documentation proving Dow wasn’t involved, she should have provided it.
The information is not only true to the best of our knowledge, but it’s relevant, and Dow’s failure to anticipate its release speaks to a level of political naïvety that wouldn’t have stood up against Democrats in the general election.
Was it overkill?
While Ronchetti has been up in the polls, the betting odds, and the fundraising, it’s hard to say whether or not he needed the ad to beat Dow. Running it, though, accomplished three things that fare well for Ronchetti in the general election, should he win June 7.
One is that it showed Ronchetti is taking nothing for granted. In politics, you fight every battle as if you’re losing. Margins matter, and mercy can be devastating. A squeaker in what should be a blow-out plays badly in the press and can depress general election turnout.
Two, it proved the “nice weatherman” could throw a punch — or a counterpunch, to be more accurate.
Ronchetti was sticking to the issues, talking about crime and border security, and generally keeping the campaign positive. Then Dow dropped a bomb, accusing Ronchetti of being a fake Conservative and a “climate change activist.”
The accusations were flimsy, but Ronchetti responded, and he was right to.
In contrast to the “not Conservative enough” claims from Dow, Ronchetti hit Dow on her record as a legislator. As with the daycare molestation case, his campaign published the voting records that supported the allegations in his ad.
Ronchetti’s counterpunch proved he’s not going to take his lumps lying down, but it also showed that Dow isn’t ready for the political big leagues.
It’s always entertaining to watch candidates attack each other, because inevitably someone will forget the object of the game and take it personally. In the CD1 race right now, for example, Michelle Garcia Holmes is posting on Facebook about how her opponent called her a Democrat. She’s appalled, but you get the feeling she was surprised by being attacked, and perhaps angry she didn’t punch first. Now it’s too late, the damage is done, and it could cost her the nomination.
Opposition research is as important in politics as having the guts to use it, but oppo on yourself is even more important. Good dirt in the wrong opponent’s hands can sink the best of campaigns.
The shocking part is that Dow, like Holmes, didn’t anticipate it — or if she did, she didn’t have a response and counter-attack loaded in the cannon.
Everyone in New Mexico politics knew the daycare scandal would resurface. When it did, the Dow campaign’s response was as damaging as the ad itself. She accused Ronchetti of “re-victimizing” the raped children, which may be the worst political defense since John Kerry’s “I was for the Iraq war before I was against it.”
The word “re-victimize” not only validates the claim but feebly attempts to redirect the attack in a “kill the messenger”-style gag order, as if exposing the sin is worst than the sin itself.
Alejandro Hernandez was Rebecca Dow’s Willie Horton. And she didn’t even see it coming.
Democrat incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is going to throw the kitchen sink at Ronchetti. Now we know that not only would Dow have sat flat-footed in the attack, but we know Ronchetti won’t pull his punches against his opponents.
The Climate Change Charge
We already covered Dow’s attacks on Ronchetti about climate change. It was easy to fact check, and it’s been unfortunate that other media haven’t bothered to seek out the truth.
It’s true that Ronchetti spoke at a climate change event sponsored in part by a group with “extensive” financial ties to George Soros, and based on the news coverage of the event, Ronchetti appears to believe the climate is indeed changing. But that’s not quite “work(ing) with climate change activists funded by George Soros,” as Dow’s ad suggests.
Ronchetti was a weatherman. Speaking at an event about weather on a college campus isn’t exactly radical.
— ConservativeNM.com, April 27, 2022
The conversation was as exciting as one would expect, given the topic. But during the Q&A, tensions started to rise. Ronchetti had walked into the lion’s den of a liberal university to declare himself a Christian Conservative. After discouraging the politicization of the weather and explaining the difficulty of looking seven days out, let alone projecting decades into the future, the audience started demanding answers.
In the course of explaining how vital oil and gas revenue is to New Mexico, Ronchetti said “we need to replace it,” but the context of his position isn’t as juicy as those five words appear by themselves.
If New Mexico were to diversify its energy resources — and few would argue we shouldn’t — the state would need to offset the billions of dollars in revenue that we take from oil and gas in taxes. It’s a statement of fact that we’ve said here time and time again: You don’t sell your house before finding a new place to live.
For the sake of jobs, the economy, and state revenue, New Mexico should be a national leader in energy generally. Diversifying energy beyond oil and gas does not require curbing oil and gas production. In fact, by boosting production the state could invest more in other industries and become not only a national leader but a global supplier. If elected, we hope Ronchetti would move the state in that direction.
Anyone can clip a quote and film a commercial around it. Unfortunately for Dow, the hit was neither effective nor contextual — and perhaps the former because of the latter.
If Ronchetti is a climate change activist, he’s pretty bad at it. He might be the only climate change activist in the history of climate change activism to advocate deregulation and more drilling.
“I’ll take on the Biden Administration and unleash New Mexico energy, because it makes more sense to produce oil and gas here than to get it from Russia and Iran.”
— Ronchetti’s Unleash ad
Primary Vulnerabilities & General Election Strengths
Dow’s attacks on Ronchetti weren’t particularly effective from a general election perspective. Grisham would be stupid to carry the torch Dow lit by accusing Ronchetti of being insufficiently MAGA. That’s the opposite of how Grisham will go after him.
But Dow had no choice. She was behind in the polls and in fundraising. Meanwhile, Ronchetti was performing well in both metrics. Some could say that this early advantage allowed him to walk a finer line during the primary than his opponents. Others would have to acknowledge that the more moderate campaign style was the reason he had the polling and fundraising advantage in the first place. Either way, Ronchetti has shown himself to be the only primary candidate who’s playing long-ball.
Take abortion, for example. Asked if they support a ban on abortion, Ronchetti was the only candidate to differentiate his personal beliefs from the beliefs of most New Mexicans. While he personally is pro-life, he demonstrated an ability to understand that the state is not as Conservative on the issue. His proposal: work across the aisle to limit late-term abortions, which the majority of Americans oppose, and push legislation that aligns with the morality of the majority of the state of New Mexico.
MAGA was another example of this.
Ronchetti has generally avoided mentioning Trump in this primary, but he has backed the common-sense policies on energy independence and border security that would Make New Mexico Great Again. He has come out against legislation that limited qualified immunity for police officers and promised to work to overturn the revolving door policies of bond reform that have increased crime in the state.
The fact is, Ronchetti isn’t the only Republican who found themselves uncomfortable with Trump. While his policies did make America better, many felt his personality was brash, crass, and “unpresidential.” It spurred record turnout in 2020, not because Joe Biden ran a great campaign, but because voters on the Left were incensed by Trump, and many on the Right were embarrassed.
Whether it was principled, political, or both, Ronchetti distancing himself from Trump is the best thing any Republican could do in a blue state where Democrats have a 13-point registration advantage over the GOP.
This is a hard pill to swallow for New Mexico Conservatives, but it’s nonetheless true, and it explains why Dow and Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block fared worse than Ronchetti in head-to-head matchups against Grisham.
Best Odds to Beat MLG
Every candidate claims they have the best chance against the Democrat incumbent in November, but the polls say otherwise.
Last month, SurveyUSA put Ronchetti within four points of Grisham, compared to 10 for Block, 12 for Dow and financial advisor Greg Zanetti, and 16 for Ethal Maharg.
The poll could be wrong, of course. Polls are only a sample of voter sentiment from a fraction of the population at a given moment in time. But the results align with both fundraising and odds-making — both of which are arguably more accurate than polls because they require people to put their money where their mouth is.
Ronchetti earned The Albuquerque Journal endorsement in the GOP primary because he is MAGA-lite compared to his opponents.
The editorial board passed on Block for being “a bit of a street fighter, which does not seem the right fit at this time when the state is so polarized.” They passed on Dow because she “was the most vocal in her support of Trump — a position the board could not support.” And they passed on Zanetti because he believes the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, “another red flag in our minds.”
Another uneasy reality for hardcore MAGAns: Ronchetti very well may have beaten Ben Ray Lujan in the 2020 U.S. Senate race if Trump weren’t on the top of the ballot. He lost by 6 points but out-performed Trump by 18,000 votes.
You read that right: Mark Ronchetti earned more votes in New Mexico running for U.S. Senate than Donald Trump did running for president — and as the incumbent, no less.
We like Mark.
He is a genuinely nice guy, he takes criticism well, speaks well, has good energy, a beautiful family, and is well known in the state thanks to his two-decade-long career as a chief meteorologist on TV news.
But most importantly, his priorities align with average New Mexicans.
Ronchetti doesn’t have the political experience that Dow and Block have, but he’s right to ask where politically experienced leadership has gotten us as a state.
We’ve suffered four years under a governor who has sat back as our economy faltered, our education system crumbled, and criminals ran rampant. We are one of the last-ranking states in almost every major category of well-being, and the only time Grisham has shown an interest in the families here has been this year. An election year. All of a sudden, she’s for lower taxes (if by only a fraction of a percentage point), she’s for free college, free child care, and stooped so low as to actually cut stimulus checks to residents while advocating against the oil and gas industry that funds our state.
All of the candidates running for the Republican nomination have accurately identified the biggest problems facing our state: crime, an open border, water, education, and most importantly inflation and a faltering economy. Their specific plans of attack vary slightly, but they all track in the same direction, and they all agree that Grisham must go.
Which is why Mark deserves the nomination.
He has the face, the money, the composure, and the backing not only of moderate Republicans, but he can potentially attract culturally Conservative Democrats to his side, which is necessary to giving Grisham the boot.
Despite some missteps from other candidates, we would have supported whoever the GOP nominee ended up being. And if it’s not Ronchetti, they will have our full support in November.
If Conservatives are as principled as they’ve been claiming for the last year of this campaign, they should too. It’s time to unite against MLG.
Author: Nick Wilbur