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The Poll

Ronchetti faces an upward battle after poll shows 7-point lead for incumbent

There’s no sugar-coating it. The Albuquerque Journal gubernatorial poll released Sunday was shocking. The survey of 518 likely voters showed incumbent Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham with a 7-point lead over Republican Mark Ronchetti, 47% to 40%, with 5% Libertarian support and 8% undecided.

Ronchetti trailed Grisham in almost every category: men, women, Hispanics, residents with a high school diploma or less, college graduates…

The Ronchetti campaign has yet to comment on the poll.

Silver Linings

Ronchetti held a four-point lead among White voters (in a state that is majority minority) and those with “some college.” He garnered more support from his own party (84%) than Grisham did from hers (82%)–and pulled more support from Democrats than Grisham did from Republicans (9% for Ronchetti, versus 7% for Grisham). But these margins are not significant enough to make up a seven-point gap.

If there’s a silver lining to what otherwise is a dark cloud for the former weatherman’s campaign, it’s the potential of a Grisham ceiling of support.

The Journal poll mirrored a Morning Consult poll in late April that ranked Grisham the seventh-least popular governor in the country, with 48% in support and 45% opposed.

The question is, will the 8% undecided break for Ronchetti?

Poll Accuracy

The best judge of polling accuracy is the accuracy of past polls.

The Journal ran two polls in the 2018 gubernatorial race between Grisham and then-Congressman (current NMGOP party chairman) Steve Pearce. In mid-September 2018, Grisham led 50-43. By late October, she was up 53-43.

The Journal nailed the Republican’s final vote percentage at 43%. He lost by 14.4 points, 42.8% to 57.2%. The poll underestimated Grisham’s finish by 4.2 points. The margin of error was 3.1%. In both instances, the 7% and 4% undecided bloc broke for Grisham.

The same happened in the 2021 mayoral race in Albuquerque.

Incumbent Democrat Tim Keller polled at 53% versus 20% for fellow Democrat Manny Gonzales and 13% for Republican Eddy Aragon. Keller went on to win that race by 30 points, finishing with 55.8% of the vote, 2.8 points over the October poll, compared to 25.6% for Gonzales (+5.6) and 18.4% for Aragon (+4.4). With 12% undecided, every candidate out-performed the poll on election day. In this race, the Journal poll was off by an average of 4.266 points. The poll’s margin of error was 4.3%.

Spoiler Effect?

After the June primary, I wrote that “The Libertarian Won’t Be A Spoiler in November.” With 5% support according to the Journal poll, newly converted “Libertarian” Karen Bedonie appears to be just that: a spoiler.

“The 1,041 votes cast for Bedonie in the governor’s race comes out to 0.4% of total votes cast in the gubernatorial election. While it’s generally true that Libertarians lean more Right than Left, a thousand votes likely won’t matter in the November general election.”

–“The Libertarian Won’t Be A Spoiler in November,” The Conservative New Mexican, June 9, 2022

While a 500-person sample can grossly inflate smaller percentages, Bedonie’s alleged 5% support would seal the deal for Grisham’s re-election.

Bedonie remains virtually unknown in the race. She raised only $4,000 in the last reporting period, compared to $1.2 million for Ronchetti and $755,000 for Grisham. The most notable outreach to date has come from painting rocks to spread the campaign’s message. As a Republican, Bedonie switched parties after failing to meet the signature threshold to get on the Republican ballot. For her efforts, 7% of registered Libertarians showed up to vote for her.

To garner 30-plus-thousand votes in the general election would be a miracle–a futile one–but even in her absence, Ronchetti would still trail Grisham by an estimated 50,000 votes (based on past turnout).

With only 30% of support from “other party” voters, Ronchetti’s hurdle isn’t Bedonie. It’s Democrats.

An Outraged Majority

The pundits were right when they predicted that Roe v. Wade was the adrenaline shot Democrats needed to break the red wave that everyone foresaw coming this November. Despite receiving praise for his nuanced view on abortion, Ronchetti has been forced into a position that requires him to run at the very issue his campaign hoped he could downplay.

New Mexicans are culturally–though not necessarily politically–Conservative. But the last decade’s surge in single-parent households, coupled with a steady decline in workforce participation and the devastating effects of 40-year-high inflation, have added an economically gray hue to the historically black and white moral issue for a majority Hispanic (and even Catholic) state.

Most Americans, by wide margins, oppose late-term abortion. They want restrictions beyond the first trimester with exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. By all measures, Ronchetti’s position on abortion should be attractive to New Mexicans.

But as Ben Shapiro recently reminded us, “Americans vote against things, not for them.” Right now, Democrats are voting against abortion restrictions, and Ronchetti’s position that we can do better than last place as a state just doesn’t pack as powerful a punch as what Leftists are calling “forced birth.”

Grisham’s handling of COVID, crime, and education all contribute to her poor national ranking as a governor. The state has the worst unemployment rate in the country, ranks last in childhood well-being, and is number one nationally in welfare and poverty. All of this has occurred despite the governor increasing spending by 35% since she took office. Abortion is the only factor that explains how a governor with such a low approval rating and dismal performance record nonetheless leads by 7 points.

Abortion has galvanized Democrats, and in a state with where Democrats hold a 180,000 voter registration advantage over Republicans, 30% support among Independents won’t cut it in November.

In June I wrote that “Ronchetti will need to maximize Republican turnout and sway enough Independents and Democrats to keep Michelle Lujan Grisham from a second term.” It wasn’t a mind-blowing analysis–only an observation that without Independents AND Democrats, no Republican candidate stands a chance at becoming the next governor.

Ronchetti is doing everything right in rural New Mexico. He’s visiting small towns across the state and whipping much-needed votes from a base that he cannot ignore if he wants to stand a chance in November. But with only 9% support from Democrats and 30% from Independents, his message on crime, border security, and jobs isn’t landing with voters–at least not as hard as Grisham’s accusations that Ronchetti is a “far-right extremist” who “is on a war path to roll back abortion access.”

The Path Forward

Ronchetti spent much of the primary on his own, robbing his challengers of any hope of sharing the limelight that his name (as a local TV personality) brought to the race. It worked, much to the chagrin of his opponents.

The general election, thanks to the Supreme Court, has shifted the focus of this race, and ignoring the elephant in the room isn’t working.

It’s a hard angle to work, particularly when Democrats are riled up. Republicans want a candidate who aligns with their views, but the abortion issue itself is too nuanced to articulate in short headlines and punchy campaign speeches.

Nonetheless, he has to try. He needs to confront abortion head-on, to set the record straight on his own position and show New Mexico that abortion isn’t an all-or-nothing issue–that we can be reasonable without being “extremist” in either direction.

New Mexico can’t afford Woke politics, but its people don’t want a so-called “right-wing extremist” in power either.

Bridging that (seven-point) gap requires refocusing the campaign from rural parts of the state into the lion’s den. It means drawing crowds in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, welcoming debate, engaging voters (and the media) on the other side of the aisle, and calling out the governor for hiding behind abortion when her state is crumbling. It means addressing the Smothermon affair and preventing Grisham from controlling the narrative.

New Mexicans are poised to vote against abortion restrictions this November. For a Republican in a solid blue state, the only way forward is through. Ronchetti has done everything right to shore up GOP support. For the next two months, he needs to peel off another 50,000 votes of New Mexicans who so far have accepted the “extremist” framework set by Michelle Lujan Grisham.

It can be done. To stop the continued decline of our state under majority Democrat rule, it has to be done. Ronchetti has an opportunity to prove his mettle not only as a TV personality and a small-town hero for disgruntled Republicans, but as a leader for every New Mexican.

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