When you go low in politics, it’s a sign of the end of your campaign.
Gubernatorial candidate Jay Block did it this week in the GOP race’s only televised debate, questioning the character and ethics of frontrunner Mark Ronchetti with a Hail Mary assault on…his choice of political consultants.
Ethal Maharg did it, criticizing her opponents for their negative attacks while, without irony, attacking them for “acting like three-year-olds.”
And Rebecca Dow did it, calling out Ronchetti for criticizing Donald Trump and allegedly working as a “climate change activist” funded by George Soros.
While voters do care about the issues — the number one concern in New Mexico, by a large margin, is the economy and inflation — it’s the personal attacks that get everybody talking.
That was on full display during Friday’s televised debate between the five GOP gubernatorial candidates. After the moderators asked their generic questions, garnering mostly generic answers that were largely indistinguishable from a policy perspective (they all agree Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has overseen a state in decline on everything from crime to education to border security) the sparks flew when candidates were allowed to ask each other questions.
State Rep. Rebecca Dow and Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block showed their cards by going after Ronchetti with conspiracy theories and insider baseball, questioning Ronchetti’s character on false allegations of being a “climate change activist” and targeting Ronchetti’s “ethics” for landing the biggest name in New Mexico political consultancy: Jay McCleskey.
Both attacks fell flat, but Dow and Block’s insistence on getting personal proves they know their campaigns are in trouble.
We’ve already covered Dow’s attack. It’s been running on TV for weeks even after being debunked. She still hasn’t realized that even Republicans in New Mexico are hesitant about the MAGA brand and that moderate Conservatism actually helps Ronchetti in a state where only a third of voters identify as Republican.
“Dow’s ad could help or hinder Ronchetti. (MAGAns could be put off by it, but Democrats unhappy with Grisham could find Ronchetti to be a moderate, at least by comparison to the rest of the field.)”Fact Check: Dow Attacks Ronchetti as ‘Climate Change Activist,’ ‘Never Trumper’, The Conservative New Mexican, Apr. 27, 2022
Block’s attack backfired so badly he held a post-debate Facebook livestream to defend himself.
Block accused Ronchetti of lacking ethics for hiring political consultant Jay McCleskey, “a longtime Republican consultant who has faced a defamation lawsuit from a candidate and a federal grand jury investigation that ended with no charges,” according to the Albuquerque Journal. But the attack hit a brick wall when Ronchetti responded by pointing out that Block himself tried to hire McCleskey before Ronchetti had entered the race.
(On Facebook after the debate, Block admitted that yes, he had reached out to McCleskey, but he could “smell the corruption through the phone” and had a change of heart.)
Just as John Kerry voted for Iraq war funding before he voted against it, Jay Block wanted Jay McCleskey before he didn’t.
It’s like asking a girl out and calling her ugly after she says no.
“You sit here and you talk about these inside baseball, ridiculous issues. This is why your campaign has not gone anywhere — because you don’t take the time to ask people what they’re going through. You take more time to list off your alleged political accomplishments versus the everyday struggles that people in this state have.”— Mark Ronchetti’s response to Jay Block during KOATNews debate
But the real revelation is what the attack angle says about where the candidates see themselves in the race.
Without money to get on TV, Block’s campaign is dead in the water. (He drew 28 viewers on his Facebook livestream.) The low quality of his and Dow’s attacks proves either that their campaigns are poorly run or that Ronchetti’s negatives simply aren’t very negative. Or both.
And while Block was the early favorite among many Conservatives — and Dow would be a thousand times better than Grisham — their low-hanging fruit character assaults call into question their own “ethics” and “integrity,” and their failure to turn their Conservative cred into fundraising and voter support further dampens their June primary prospects.
Ronchetti won the debate on merit. He was right to defend himself and call out the attacks on his character as petty distractions, both from the issues that matter to voters and from his opponents’ failure to be competitive in the race.
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The depth of desperation was accentuated by the “issue” Block chose to use for his attack on Ronchetti. Block knew McCleskey was working with Ronchetti — it’s the point of his attack. He knew that McCleskey knew that he (Block) tried to recruit McCleskey. If McCleskey is as good as his consulting fees indicate, it doesn’t take a genius to assume that McCleskey would use the text messages and voicemails from Block against him if Block ever proved to be a formidable opponent. For Block to think it would be effective to call out Ronchetti for hiring McCleskey, Block had to assume McCleskey wouldn’t tell Ronchetti that Block tried to hire him as a consultant. And it assumes Block thought McCleskey wasn’t already on the campaign a month before Ronchetti announced his candidacy.
Ronchetti was ready, and his response revealed Block as a hypocrite.
Mistakes like this are the unsurprising results of a one-man show. Block has solid policy positions but not enough oomph to turn that message into campaign donations. Without money you can’t hire professionals to navigate the precarious political waters of a gubernatorial campaign. And while part of political consulting means proposing new ideas to advance the candidacy, it also means checking the candidate’s bad ideas by pointing out the second- and third-order effects of “going with your gut” on personal attacks that might do more damage than good.
Which is why Block sought out McCleskey in the first place. And the fact that he didn’t get him — because he was already in the Ronchetti camp? — is why Block stepped in this political manure in the first place.
Being a good soldier, a good businessman, and a good county commissioner does not necessarily make someone good at politics.
(Though that doesn’t explain Rebecca Dow’s flub. She has the money for campaign consultants but continues to air an ad painting Ronchetti as not MAGA in a purple state that voted for Biden by an 11-point margin.)
Watch the full debate here.