DeSantis campaigns in New Mexico as GOP makes bold bet on governor
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ campaign stop in New Mexico on Sunday is worth watching for two reasons: The state is one of the GOP’s best opportunities to overthrow a Democratic gubernatorial post. And the Republican candidate has come this far without the help of Donald Trump.
Why is this important: New Mexico has the highest share of Hispanic voters of any state in the country. Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is currently the nation’s only Latina governor. But she’s unpopular — and with Hispanic voters poised to continue their shift to the right, Republican Mark Ronchetti, a former TV weatherman, is suddenly in play.
- He is well placed after soundly defeating several MAGA allies in the GOP primary. Really clear policy shows that Lujan Grisham’s poll lead is within the margin of error.
- New Mexico has overtaken more traditional battlegrounds like Michigan and Pennsylvania on the GOP radar due to the nomination of weak Republican candidates in those states.
The plot: Ronchetti has kept his distance from Trump, who is deeply unpopular in New Mexico, but is betting DeSantis will be a more popular surrogate.
- It’s a risky bet: Ronchetti is a popular and self-proclaimed meteorologist family man. DeSantis’ harsher rhetoric could put off some swing voters. Ronchetti will have to convince independents and even some moderate Democrats to win.
What they say : Ronchetti told Axios that Republicans can’t win in New Mexico with harsh rhetoric about Hispanics and must focus on issues like crime and the economy to win over the state’s swing Latino voters.
- “We have a lot of conservatives in this state, who are like, ‘Can we build a movement to do this? We can. But don’t go out and start thinking you can kick people out of your party,” Ronchetti said.
The big picture: Crime and public safety have become top campaign issues, according to strategists involved in the race in New Mexico.
- This month, Lujan Grisham published a out-of-context campaign ad accusing Ronchetti of wanting to “defund the police” based on debate comments criticizing Lujan Grisham’s insufficient support for law enforcement. Ronchetti and the Republican Governors Association retaliated by calling his attack an outright lie.
- The Fraternal Order of State Police, which did not endorse anyone in the race, criticized the Democrat for misrepresenting Ronchetti’s position.
Between the lines: Lujan Grisham has been plagued by low approval ratings, staff upheaval and accusations of hypocrisy.
- She initially praised her handling of the pandemic, but sparked outrage when she waved her finger at a press conference in front of residents who weren’t wearing masks.
- She was later criticized for buy jewelry after ordering the closure of all non-essential businesses.
- Lujan Grisham once told a Democratic candidate to leave a lieutenant governor race following allegations of workplace harassment, only to pay a former campaign staffer thousands of dollars accusing him of sexual misconduct.
Several cabinet secretaries in the state’s education, health and youth services departments resigned or were fired during his four years in office, with staff complaining about his administration’s toxic environment.
The other side: David Turner, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said the Republicans’ claim that they could overthrow New Mexico is “more bluster than substance.”
- He said the DGA committed $2.5 million to help Lujan Grisham in May and expected her to be re-elected.
- “Governor. Michelle Lujan Grisham has never been better positioned for re-election – her campaign has already raised a whopping $7.8 million to date,” said Dominic Gabello, senior campaign adviser for the governor’s re-election campaign, in Axios.
Do not forget : Ronchetti won a disputed GOP primary without any support from Trump.
- Before running for the Senate in 2019, he said“I’m a Christian conservative who was a Republican until the Orange One. I’m afraid it’s taken a piece of my soul, and it won’t come back.” As a candidate, his campaign later said he was joking.
- In 2020, Ronchetti came within six points of losing Sen. Ben Ray Luján (DN.M.) even as President Biden carried New Mexico by 11 points. As a familiar face on New Mexico television, he won over independent voters with a no-nonsense campaign message.