April 29, 2020

GOP candidates question opponents’ loyalty to Trump

Former T.V. meteorologist and Republican primary candidate for U.S. Senate Mark Ronchetti found himself in hot water with his opponents this week. Already a target for some local conservatives, Ronchetti now has to explain comments he made during a presentation on climate change at the University of New Mexico last year that seemed to be a criticism of President Donald Trump.

“I’m a Christain conservative, who used to be a Republican, until the orange one,” Ronchetti said, invoking laughter from the crowd. “I’m afraid that has taken a part of my soul and that’s not coming back.”

Ronchetti did not respond to a request for an interview, but his campaign manager told the Albuquerque Journal that the comments were in jest and that he does indeed support the president.

But his opponents, namely the one who said he found the video clip, are not buying it. 

Gavin Clarkson, a former Trump appointee and one of Ronchetti’s opponents, said he thinks “Support for Trump is a baseline qualification for the GOP.”

“If you’re going to say, ‘I support the president,’ prove it,” Clarkson told NM Political Report

Clarkson said he found the video while searching online to back up his claim that Ronchetti’s previous public views on climate change differ from Trump’s. 

“He spent the next 45 minutes to an hour talking about policies that this president doesn’t support,” Clarkson added. 

But this week’s claims that Ronchetti wavers in his support for the White House are not the first for him or for other GOP candidates in the state. For months, other prominent Republican candidates have faced their own criticism of their support, or lack thereof, for the president. In fact, even those who have faced criticism have volleyed it back. 

Elisa Martinez, who is running against Clarkson and Ronchetti in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, also criticized Ronchetti for his remarks on the video clip.   

“We don’t know what version of the weatherman we’re going to get,” Martinez said. “Are we going to get partly cloudy? Partly sunny? I think fair weather for sure.”

But Clarkson, a member of the Choctaw Nation, faced criticism during his run for Congress in 2018 after several news reports about his time with the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. ProPublica reported at the time that Clarkson resigned just after an investigation of a failed deal was made public. But Clarkson said he was simply a victim of “fake news.”

“There were never allegations that I did anything wrong,” Clarkson said. 

When asked about Clarkson’s time working for the Trump administration, Martinez said she doesn’t think the issue was completely cleared up. 

“I think the charges to this day still stand for those who raised concerns about [Clarkson’s] conduct with the new administration,” Martinez said. 

But Clarkson said he resigned at the end of 2017 in order to run for Congress the next year and that accusations that he was part of any wrongdoing are “demonstrably false.”

“I am disappointed in Elisa that she would cite the very same fake news that has been hellbent on destroying this president,” Clarkson said. 

Congressional race

Meanwhile, two Republican candidates running for Congress in southern New Mexico continue to accuse each other of wavering in their support for the president. 

Yvette Herrell, who has touted her support of Trump as one of the reasons she should go to Washington D.C., has been criticizing her opponent Claire Chase for negative comments she made on social media in 2016. 

“New Mexico Republicans cannot afford to nominate Never Trump candidates like Claire Chase,” Herrell told NM Political Report in an email. 

When Trump was running for office in 2016, Chase criticized him and said he was not fit for office. She later said she actually did vote for Trump in the general election and now supports him. 

Now Chase’s campaign is running an ad accusing Herrell of secretly undermining the president and a state political action committee is running an ad accusing Herrell of attending an American Legislative Exchange Council conference where a Trump piñata was reportedly displayed.  

Herrell is the state chair of ALEC, an organization with hundreds of elected officials as members, including dozens of current and former state legislators from New Mexico.

Chase did not respond to a request for a comment, but in a campaign email Tuesday morning, Chase’s campaign manager said, “Yvette Herrell has repeatedly lied about her support for President Trump. The fact that she used our tax dollars to fly to a swanky California conference where they hung the President in effigy disqualifies her as a Republican candidate.”

In her email to NM Political Report, Herrell accused Chase of lying. 

“The stakes for the 2020 elections could not be higher and voters deserve a proven conservative leader who has always placed the value of people above politics, not a candidate like Claire who spreads blatant lies,” Herrell said. “I’ve proudly supported President Trump from day one, including voting for him in both the primary and the general election, and have been endorsed by some of the President’s top allies, including Representatives Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Debbie Lesko, along with Governor Mike Huckabee and many other conservative leaders and organizations.”

Mike Curtis, a spokesman for the Republican Party of New Mexico, said the party does not comment on candidates before the primary election. But when asked whether it is imperative for GOP candidates to support Trump, Curtis said, “Candidates are free to choose whether to support President Trump or not. The voters will eventually decide.”