Former television news meteorologist Mark Ronchetti won the state’s Republican primary election for U.S. Senate, taking more than half the votes in a three-way race through partial results on Tuesday night. The results reported from the Secretary of State’s office as of 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday showed Ronchetti won 55.57 percent of the votes.
One of his opponents, anti-abortion activist Elisa Martinez got 26.62 percent of the votes and Ronchetti’s other opponent, former Trump official Gavin Clarkson got 17.8 percent of the votes. Ronchetti will now face Democratic U.S. Rep Ben Ray Luján and Libertarian Bob Walsh in the November general election. Neither had competition in their parties’ primaries. The seat is currently held by Sen. Tom Udall, who announced he would not run for another term.
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.
New Mexico commercial contractor Mick Rich is taking a second run for Senate. Rich told NM Political Report early Friday morning that he was running again in 2020.
Rich said he has “learned a lot” since his last attempt to represent New Mexico in Washington D.C. Rich’s Senate campaign in 2018, when he lost to Martin Heinrich, was his first attempt at elected office. “As we approach the 2020 election cycle, we have acted on that learning,” Rich said. “Rather than rush to announce for an open seat, we have recruited a top-notch campaign team and have begun to contact major donors.”
The Senate seat is open because Sen. Tom Udall opted not to run for a third term. Udall’s announcement earlier this year set off speculation on who would run to replace the longtime elected officeholder.
A group of armed, masked vigilantes who have held those crossing the border, including those seeking asylum, until Border Patrol arrived has brought national attention to New Mexico and the ongoing border debate. The far-right group which calls itself United Constitutional Patriots recorded members detaining men, women and children who crossed the U.S./Mexico border in New Mexico and broadcast it on Facebook last week. Their actions drew immediate condemnation from a range of New Mexico elected officials, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Attorney General Hector Balderas, who said individuals “should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement.”
A spokesman for the governor’s office told NM Political Report they have been in contact with the AG, state police and local police about the group to stay informed. U.S. Customs and Border Protection wrote on Twitter, “#CBP does not endorse or condone private groups or organizations that take enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gavin Clarkson, meanwhile, appeared in a Facebook video with the group.
A former Trump administration official announced Tuesday that he is running for the open U.S. Senate seat. Republican Gavin Clarkson announced he will run for the seat to replace U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, the Democrat who said earlier this year that he would not seek a third term in the Senate. He is the first Republican to announce his candidacy. “I’m running to share the stories and aspirations of the ordinary people who make New Mexico extraordinary and who just want to see some sympathy in the Senate, and that will mean being in-state as often as possible, so I’m promising to visit every one of our state’s 33 counties at least once a year,” Clarkson said in a statement. He also mentioned his personal story, saying he lost “almost everything” in the 2008 financial crisis then moved to New Mexico “with one cent in my bank account” and started flipping houses—buying houses, fixing them up and selling them at a higher price.
Democrats swept statewide races on Election Day, and will control not just the governor’s office and all of the executive agencies, but also independent state agencies that oversee everything from state funds to state lands. Democratic incumbent Tim Eichenberg easily won the race for State Treasurer over Republican Arthur Castillo and Democrat Brian Colón defeated Republican Wayne Johnson for State Auditor. In the three-way race for Attorney General, Democratic incumbent Hector Balderas beat Republican Michael Hendricks and Libertarian Blair Dunn. And another Democratic incumbent, Maggie Toulouse Oliver defeated Republican Gavin Clarkson and Libertarian Ginger Grider to hold on to the Secretary of State seat. The closest statewide race on Election Day was for State Land Commissioner.
The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously struck down a controversial proposal to add a straight-party option to November’s ballot. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced last month that she would reinstate an option on November’s ballot to allow people to vote for all candidates of a given party with one mark on the ballot. That decision was challenged by the Libertarian and Republican parties of New Mexico, along with a Utah-based political action committee, a non-profit advocate group for independent candidates and one Democratic write-in candidate. On Wednesday, Chief Justice Judith Nakamura called it a tough decision, but said only state lawmakers can add add straight-party voting to the ballot. “Until the legislature makes a decision one way or the other, the Secretary of State cannot,” Nakamura said.
Campaign finance reports filed Monday showed positives for both gubernatorial candidates, with the Republican showing a lead with money left, but the Democrat raised, and spent, more money. Republican nominee Steve Pearce finished the campaign finance period—which lasted from July 1 to Sept. 3—with nearly $1.9 million cash-on-hand for the final two months of the race. This was well ahead of the $1.2 million cash-on-hand for his opponent, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham. Lujan Grisham, however, raised $1.9 million in the period and spent almost $1.5 million.
New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District isn’t the safe territory it used to be for Republicans, according to election handicappers. Most experts have put the Republican stronghold in the “Likely Republican” category. This is both because of the national environment—there are many more competitive Republican seats compared to Democratic seats—and the fact that the incumbent is not running for reelection. U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce is instead running for governor. The Cook Political Report offers the most aggressive prediction.
One Republican candidate announced he would no longer seek the party’s nomination for the 2nd Congressional District race, which covers southern New Mexico. But another candidate quickly took his place. Such is the turmoil in an open seat race, as candidates jostle for the nomination in the state’s most conservative district. Andrew Salas, a New Mexico National Guard brigadier general, announced on Facebook Monday morning he would leave the race because of his military service. “My military service has never stopped during this campaign and recently I received a new assignment that will continue to take me out of New Mexico during the homestretch of the campaign,” Salas said.