Ronchetti lit up the governor Wednesday night, highlighting the dark realities of her record: second-in-the-nation crime, worst-in-the-nation education, failure and hypocrisy over COVID lockdown protocols, her $150,000 payoff of a sexual assault allegation against a former staffer.
Objectively, Ronchetti had the better debate performance. He was passionate and articulate in outlining his platform and detailing the incumbent’s leadership failures these past four years.
But as Michelle Lujan Grisham said several times Wednesday night, she’s the only experienced politician in the race, and it showed.
Grisham’s body language was something to behold: through most of the debate, she sat with her arms crossed, smirking, as if she knew that she could break out in Satanic chants and still win re-election.
If it’s true that nothing in politics is accidental, the visual communication was intentional: she knew what she was doing.
To Republicans watching, it was disrespectful. But to Democrats, it was a signal to her base that Ronchetti is a joke, that he’s undeserving of her attention or respect, and that this race is in the bag.
Grisham had an answer for everything. The less honest it was, the stronger its delivery. As her supporters adamantly declared afterward, the career politician had a great night. She dulled all attacks with redirection and and deflection, and in so doing she avoided any unflattering headlines.
In a state that’s 44.3% Democrat, Grisham doesn’t need to peel off any Republicans to win. She’s not even trying. Last Sunday, the Hobbs News-Sun ran candidate Q&As on the front page. The optics were awful for the incumbent: “Lujahn (sic) Grisham will not answer the questions”
Hobbs is in Lea County, which voted 80% for Trump in 2020.
She doesn’t care because she doesn’t believe she has to. With less than a third of the state registered as Republican, Grisham is relying on her incumbency to carry her over the finish line. If she turns out her base, she would need less than 25% of Independents to secure a second term.
Grisham played the part of heir apparent, nonplussed by questions about her poor record, dodging everything so flippantly you half-wondered if she knew something we didn’t. Like are we actually not worst in the nation in education and child well-being? Are we not consistently in the top 3 in poverty? Are we not #1 in welfare?
Where Ronchetti proposed tax cuts, Grisham took credit for already cutting them. Where Ronchetti discussed crime and record-high state spending, Grisham blamed COVID and pivoted to name dropping various programs she’s spent taxpayer money on to hopefully make New Mexico not last in something, eventually. It was bizarre but effective.
To overcome a 9-point deficit in the polls, a perceived draw was not what Ronchetti was hoping for. He needed a big night and a big headline. He got neither.
- From The Albuquerque Journal: “Gov candidates confront each other in combative debate“
- From The Santa Fe New Mexican: “Lujan Grisham, Ronchetti trade barbs, deflect on tough questions in final debate“
- From The Las Cruces Sun News: “New Mexico governor pins reelection to support for abortion“
The Sun News nailed it, but the article wasn’t unflattering. For Democrats, aborting pregnancies (aka “women’s rights“) is a top issue. For Grisham, it’s the only thing besides legalized weed and free college that she can legitimately run on.
And, if you can trust the polls*, it’s working.
Very few people in New Mexico genuinely “like” Michelle, but because the masses are generally uninformed, casual voters think Ronchetti wants to ban abortion. In soundbite society, “He will ban abortion” is stickier than “I’m personally pro life, but I understand that New Mexicans have a more nuanced view on the issue, which is why I oppose Lujan Grisham’s extremist position and as such, if elected governor, I would push a constitutional amendment…”
Grisham clocked him again with the Smothermon issue–the pastor claimed Ronchetti said in private he’s publicly taking a middle-ground on abortion but once elected he’ll ban abortion outright–and Ronchetti once again dropped the ball. His response: “You’ll have to ask him.”
The problem is, Smothermon was asked, and as far as the public is aware, he hasn’t changed his story. A simple, “Smothermon perhaps misunderstood my position, but it is not true that I will seek to ban abortion, I’ve been clear on my stance, MLG just has nothing else to campaign on,” etc.
“You’ll have to ask Smothermon” was a jaw dropper.
Throwing away his candidate-to-candidate question on a sexual assault allegation was a missed opportunity to circle back to an issue New Mexicans actually care about. For two years now, attempts to brand Grisham as a “sexual predator” or “serial groper” fell flat, for obvious reasons. Brushing water off a man’s pants and making a dick joke is not what most people think of when they hear the term “sexual assault.”
There is a different between a man in power assaulting a female staffer, but it gets tricky claiming #metoo victimhood as a grown man getting teased by a female midget. When the alleged assaulter is weaker than the alleged victim and the alleged victim is gay, the “sexual assault” seems to fall short of being either sexual or assault.
The story has been red meat to a rabid base of rightwingers, but Democrats don’t care, and women who’ve actually been assaulted or harassed don’t have sympathy for Hallinan’s hurt feelings.
If you trust the polls, Ronchetti is down by an average of 9 points (-8 per PPP; -16 per SurveyUSA; -5 per The Hill/Emerson; -7 per ABQJournal). In reality, it’s probably 5 or 6. With another victory in the fundraising race last week, it could fall to 3 or 4, but the Smothermon affair still haunts him, the debate didn’t change that, and Grisham is signaling that she’s already won.