The presumed front-runner of the 2022 Republican primary for governor lost the GOP convention, taking fourth place with only 16% of delegate votes cast.
Oddly, Mark Ronchetti actually encouraged his delegates to vote for other candidates in the pre-primary.
Was this a political misstep or an intentional packing of the primary field to drown out his opponents’ message, allowing Ronchetti to ride his weatherman name recognition to the November general election?
In a statement issued after the conventions, Ronchetti said, “we are all partners in the question to defeat one person: Michelle Lujan Grisham.” Immediately after this he said, “My campaign has unmatched grassroots support across the state. 7,000 Republicans signed my petition, three times as many as any other candidate.”
While true, the contradictory message remains puzzling. Why release your delegates to vote for other candidates when those other candidates have a third as much support?
Ronchetti called the convention “chaotic” (three times) and “dysfunctional,” a “back-biting and backstabbing” process with “cheapshot cowards” sending derogatory text messages to delegates about other candidates (namely Rebecca Dow). “Grow up,” he said during his speech.
Political Genius Or Miscalculation?
If Ronchetti knew going into the convention that he wouldn’t win, it would be smart to get out ahead of it by playing the role of unifier, thus allowing him to dismiss the results of the convention. Encouraging his delegates to vote for other candidates gave him that out.
But the optics don’t play well. The post-convention news headlines didn’t read, “Ronchetti Releases Delegates, Giving Block A Win.” They didn’t say, “Ronchetti Helps Other Republicans Get On June Primary Ballot.” He can say those things, but if there’s a lesson to learn from the fact that New Mexico ranks 42nd nationally in voter turnout, it’s that New Mexicans aren’t reading the fine print. They’re reading the headlines, and the headlines ranged from banal to damning. None benefitted the presumed front-runner.
- “Four GOP candidates for governor make ballot” — KOB
- “Multiple candidates make it on ballot after Republican Party convention” — KOAT
- “New Mexico GOP picks candidates for 2022 primary ballot” — KRQE
- “Ronchetti steps up damage control after poor finish at GOP convention” — Santa Fe New Mexican
- “Block blasts gov. rivals after posting convention win” — ABQ Journal
- “Ronchetti Gets Cold Shoulder” — Joe Monahan blog
Getting “blasted” by the winner and doing “damage control” are hardly the optics a front-runner wants heading into the June primary.
That’s not to say Ronchetti can’t pull it off. He boasts over a million dollars in fundraising and a 60% majority in internal polls. It’s only to say that this was the path the campaign presumably chose, on purpose.
“It was his way of fading the heat over his continued inability to perform at these conservative grassroots events.”—Joe Monahan, The Home of New Mexico Politics
Everything in politics is calculated, and no campaign manager worth his salary would recommend a self-sacrifice to get more candidates on the ballot unless it was the only option they had.
A packed primary splinters the party, increases infighting, and by the very nature of having multiple voices slinging mud trying to get an edge, it damages everyone involved.
The hope had to have been that it damages the other candidates more than it damages Ronchetti. The question isn’t whether releasing delegates was the best option, but whether Ronchetti is admitting with the release of delegates that he doesn’t have the support of New Mexico Republicans to campaign on the merits of his vision for the state, because the other effect of multiple candidates is that everyone’s message gets muted when there is a packed field.
There’s only so many column inches to spare. Grisham is running unopposed as the incumbent in the Democrat primary for governor. Her campaign won’t be splitting air time with challengers. By contrast, Republican candidates will have their message quartered by the size of the field.
Ronchetti made that possible. If nothing in politics is coincidental, he did that on purpose under the assumption that he would suffer less than his opponents.
And he may be right.
Ronchetti’s name recognition, as a TV personality, very well may carry him further than the title of “County Commissioner” or “State Representative.” Still, the sacrifice of post-convention optics in favor long-term personality politics in a divided primary doesn’t signal that the campaign is fighting on the issues. Ronchetti is fighting a war of attrition in the hope that by muting the message of his opponents he will come out on top.
The Wages of Sacrificing the Convention
The political calculation of releasing delegates came at a cost of putting an opponent on the front page of the biggest newspaper in the state. Jay Block didn’t waste time utilizing the ink he was offered.
Declaring himself the front-runner, Block called on Ronchetti to drop out of the race. “He’s been rejected,” Block said, according to The Albuquerque Journal. “I kicked the crap out of him and it felt great.”
It earned Block an interview on KKOB radio where he boasted of his victory and declared he would not only win the primary in June but that his support at the convention proves he is the best candidate to take on Grisham in November.
The voters will ultimately decide, but the optics of seemingly intentionally taking fourth place in the GOP convention seems like an unnecessary misstep. Not only did Ronchetti provide fodder for Block, but he provided fodder for Grisham — the messaging writes itself: “Wrongchetti: Fourth Place Among Republicans, Wrong for New Mexico” — but it signals a fear of the nominating process that has forced the campaign to lean on celebrity name recognition over the merit of his vision.
Categories: 2022 Governor's Race