Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

15 things to know about the midterm election | Local News

After a hard-fought gubernatorial race between the incumbent Democrat, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and the TV weatherman-turned-politician, Mark Ronchetti, election season is — finally — coming to a close.

For New Mexicans inundated for months now with TV ads, mailers, social media posts, door knockers and phone calls — not just in the multimillion-dollar battle for the governor’s seat but also in a host of other statewide and legislative races — the 2022 election will be a memorable one. 

With two days to go, here’s a little more insight.

1. Recent polls indicate Ronchetti, the Republican nominee for governor, is within striking distance of winning the election. Although he has no political experience, is there a possibility of an upset? 

Depends on who you ask or which pollster you trust.

A recent poll conducted by Emerson College for KRQE News 13 gives the governor a 2-point lead. Other polls have her up by 7 or 8 points, while at least one gives Ronchetti a 1-point advantage. 

Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff of Research & Polling, Inc., said considering how much money political action committees and other entities have funneled into the race on both sides, it’s clear “there are a lot of people and analysts who believe this race is competitive. … I get the sense it’s narrowed a bit this week.”

A third candidate, Libertarian Karen Bedonie, netted just 3 percent of support in a recent Albuquerque Journal poll.

2. Both candidates running for secretary of state have brought up the issue of election fraud. Will that be an issue come Tuesday?

Although a recent Brennan Center for Justice report said election fraud is “very rare, voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators,” many supporters of former Republican President Donald Trump still question the legitimacy of the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat running for reelection, said Friday that a bipartisan team of poll workers will be on-site at many — but not all — sites. They will provide the “eyes and ears” over proceedings. 

Anyone seeking same-day voter registration must provide a picture ID, she said. And while she is not expecting any trouble at the polls from protesters or those questioning the proceedings, she said local and state police officers will be patrolling “in certain areas if any problems may arise.”

Her opponent, Republican Audrey Trujillo, has questioned some previous balloting procedures enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and has said election fraud is a concern. If elected, she said she would talk with each county clerk’s office to find out how best to conduct fair voting procedures in their precincts.

3. Did social media play a big role in this year’s election?

Just about every candidate had a presence at least on Facebook or Twitter and used the social media platforms to amplify their messages and attack their opponents.

Whether the “likes” and “retweets” will translate into votes is another matter, but the candidates’ posts reached a large and diverse audience.

A nearly two-minute video clip of Ronchetti berating Lujan Grisham during the second and final televised gubernatorial debate, for example, generated more than 153,000 views on Twitter.

But perhaps the biggest social media phenomenon of the campaign season didn’t come from any candidate or well-paid political consultant but from regular New Mexicans, who created a series of widely shared memes, often poking fun at Ronchetti.

The memes coincided with a slew of tweets with a “Bad for New Mexico” tagline also critical of Ronchetti, whose name at one point was trending on Twitter for all the #wrongchetti reasons.

4. How many people have voted so far, via absentee or early voting ballots?

As of Saturday morning, with one day of early voting left, 394,845 New Mexicans had already voted early or absentee, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Of them, 51.8 percent were Democrats, 35 percent were Republicans and 12 percent were not members of a party.

So far, Democrats are on track to match the 2018 midterm percentage-wise, when 51.79 percent of early voters were Democrats. The total early and absentee vote is on track to be lower than that year, when 442,521 people voted early or absentee.

Both major parties are overperforming in early and absentee voting compared to their shares of the electorate — just 44 percent of New Mexico voters were Democrats and 31 percent were Republicans as of Oct. 31.

Unaffiliated voters, who make up 23 percent of the electorate but half that percentage of the early vote, could be in a position to decide this election if they show up.

5. I’m a political ad junkie. Which ads stand out this election season?

The award for the cheesiest ad, hands down, goes to a PAC funded by the Republican Attorneys General Association.

The ad is so bad it’s good.

Titled “Better Call Raúl,” the ad plays off the Better Call Saul TV series to portray attorney general candidate Raúl Torrez, a Democrat, as a friend and ally to criminals.

“If you recently committed a crime in Albuquerque, call AG candidate Raúl Torrez,” the narrator says in the ad, which features supposed criminals singing Torrez’s praises. “Thanks to [Bernalillo County] District Attorney Raúl Torrez, 50 percent of violent felonies go unprosecuted, and your charges can be erased, too.”

Sanderoff, the Albuquerque-based pollster and political analyst, told KOAT-TV he showed the ad to numerous people who described it as “humorous, childish, crude, immature, amusing and cheesy.”

A majority of TV ads centered around the governor’s race.

Lujan Grisham scored a home run with an ad featuring her husband, Manny Cordova, who is shown working in a body shop in a cap and blue jeans and calling the governor the hardest working person he knows. “Ella es uno de nosotros,” or “She is one of us,” Cordova concludes in the ad in an apparent attempt to court the Hispanic vote.

Ronchetti, who unleashed a series of hard-hitting ads against the governor, finished the campaign season on a positive note. His last ad, titled “Together,” shows him walking alongside his wife, Krysty, as scores of supporters join in.

In a recent interview, Ronchetti said his campaign put out a call to a few people to participate in the filming.

“Two hundred people showed up, and we’re like, ‘My goodness.’ What a blessing that was,” he said. “I think it just shows where the momentum is in this race.”

Both gubernatorial candidates also had major missteps in some of their campaign ads.

In one, Lujan Grisham accused Ronchetti of wanting to defund the police by using a short snippet from a televised debate when Ronchetti was still in the GOP primary. The video clip distorted Ronchetti’s actual support of police, prompting his campaign to criticize Lujan Grisham for making “distortions so severe they’re laughable.”

Ronchetti flubbed, too, in a campaign ad featuring his wife. In that ad, Krysty Ronchetti recalled a terrifying break-in that associated the surge of lawlessness in New Mexico with Lujan Grisham. It backfired when it was revealed the break-in happened a decade ago when Susana Martinez, a Republican, was governor.

6. Best quotes during this election cycle?

“You’ve seen the baseless, false attacks that Mark Ronchetti and his campaign have run against us consistently because these are all desperate efforts to hide the fact that he has no plan. He has no experience. He’s a TV personality.” — Lujan Grisham

“You shut down stores and then you go jewelry shopping. You shut down our ability to see our families and then you hold parties. And then you keep our kids out of school and you roll up to to Navajo Lake and you have a party with your friends. You are a hypocrite, governor.” —  Ronchetti

“It doesn’t take a weatherman to tell you Mark Ronchetti will go wherever the wind blows.” — U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, who faced a tougher-than-expected challenge from Ronchetti in the 2020 race for the U.S. Senate

“In this race, it’s not about partisan politics. It’s about who can be your banker, who has the experience to manage $15 billion and who has the independence from both parties.” — Democratic state treasurer candidate Laura Montoya

“The Hispano-Latino have their traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation. And that is not part of the progressive liberal agenda, and that’s where I broke with the Democrat Party.” — Harry Montoya, a former Democrat who is running for state treasurer as a Republican

“She talks about being the shortest governor. She’s the tallest governor I know.” — President Joe Biden, referring to Lujan Grisham

“This is a time for a Republican governor to bring common sense answers to … kitchen table issues, and that’s exactly what Mark is going to do.” — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, in a stump speech for Ronchetti

“If you live in America, you need one to drive, to have a job, just to go to the bank. My kids need an ID to get a book from the library. I don’t think that’s anything that infringes on anyone’s rights.” — Republican secretary of state candidate Audrey Trujillo, who supports a voter ID requirement for voting

“Today in 2022, our democracy is at stake. Make no mistake.” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat running for reelection

“We talk about this every two years, how this is going to be an important election. But this one, let me tell you, there is a lot at stake. This is part of a larger battle. It’s a fight for the very soul of our nation.” — Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller

“We have a few more days. I want you to drive your abuelitas to the polls, get your neighbors, knock on doors, make phone calls.” — Democratic state auditor candidate Joseph Maestas

“Mark Ronchetti thinks Chimayo is mayonnaise from Chicago.” — one of dozens of memes poking fun at Ronchetti

“MLG committed sexual assault. Full stop.” — Jeff Glassburner, Ronchetti’s campaign manager, in a tweet referencing a sexual harassment complaint against the governor

7. What are the biggest issues in the gubernatorial race and what are the candidates’ stances on those issues?

Almost from the get-go, Lujan Grisham has highlighted the need to give women the right to choose when it comes to accessing abortion procedures, while Ronchetti  — who has said he is pro-life — has played up the state’s rising crime rates and the need to enact such “tough-on-crime” policies as doing away with bail reform measures that let judges release those accused of violent crimes before their trials. Meanwhile, both candidates have prioritized finding ways to improve the state’s public education system, which is generally near or at the bottom of most national rankings. 

8. Many of the 70 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs this year. Democrats hold a large advantage in the House, but could Republicans gain ground and win enough seats to start having more influence in that chamber?  

Republicans certainly think so, with Albuquerque-based House Republican candidates in particular appealing to voters’ desires to do more to stem violent crime rates in that city. Sanderoff (the Albuquerque pollster) said recent redistricting actions may help Republicans win in some areas and lose in others. But he added often in midterm elections the party that does not hold the White House sees gains in House and Senate races, so “it’s possible the Republicans could net a few seats in the House.”

“Redistricting made some House districts more competitive, and we are certainly facing some tough races, but as long as New Mexico voters show up at the polls, I am confident we will maintain our strong majority and could pick up some key seats in the House,” Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque and House majority floor leader, wrote in an email Friday. He cited gains House Democrats made in such issues as additional investments in education, “making our communities safer, growing our economy and protecting access to health care.”

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, sounded an optimistic tone for Republicans gaining seats in the House, saying he believes many New Mexicans are not happy with high crime rates, a lack of border security and economic uncertainty including “the devalue of their wages. They will be voting for people who respect their values, not some faraway party stance.”

Democrats currently hold 45 seats in the House while Republicans hold 24, with one independent serving. Even if Republicans picked up five seats, Democrats would still have a healthy 10-seat advantage.

9. Have recent redistricting efforts given either of the two major parties an advantage in the races for the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts? 

Looking at a decade’s worth of voter data on all statewide races before and after recent redistricting actions it’s unclear, but it could bode well for Democrats in the 2nd District, where the average percentage of registered Democratic voters rose from 45.1 percent to 53 percent. In that race, Democrat Gabe Vasquez is facing U.S Rep. Yvette Herrell.

In the 3rd District, where Republican Alexis Martinez Johnson is challenging U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, the average percentage of registered Democrats dropped from 58.3 percent to 56 percent.

However, assuming most or all Democrats vote along party lines, they hold a clear advantage in both races.

10. How much money did the candidates raise this election cycle?

In the governor’s race, Lujan Grisham raised nearly $12.5 million while Ronchetti collected nearly $9.3 million in campaign contributions.

Lujan Grisham started the race with a fundraising edge. In October 2021, when Ronchetti announced his gubernatorial bid, she already had $2.1 million in cash on hand. And unlike Ronchetti, who outraised Lujan Grisham in three fundraising cycles, Lujan Grisham was unopposed in the primary.

Raúl Torrez, the Democrat nominee for attorney general, also was a top earner in a statewide race. He raised a little over $2 million. His Republican opponent, Jeremy Gay, raised $509,000.

Political action committees affiliated with the Republican and Democratic governors associations amassed big dollars, too.

A Stronger New Mexico, which was funded by the Democratic Governors Association, raised nearly $11.3 million.

The RGA New Mexico 2022 PAC, which was funded by the Republican Governors Association, raised $6.5 million.

11. What role did a couple of guys named Smothermon and Hallinan play in the gubernatorial race? 

Both were used as campaign fodder in one way or another.

Steve Smothermon, a pastor at the Legacy Church in Albuquerque, probably annoyed — to put it mildly — both candidates.

He called Lujan Grisham a “monster” for her pro-abortion rights stance and said Ronchetti told him he wanted to ban abortion outright, even though Ronchetti had told voters he believed abortion should be legal for the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and in cases of pregnancies involving rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk. He later amended that to call for letting voters decide on the issue through a constitutional amendment.

Lujan Grisham, in response, has repeatedly said Ronchetti has “flip-flopped” on the issue, which has become more controversial since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year. 

Meanwhile, James Hallinan became the Republicans’ poster child in their efforts to attack Lujan Grisham. He was at the center of ads (and news stories) accusing Lujan Grisham of sexual misconduct after he alleged she groped him in 2018 when he worked for her during her first campaign for governor.

Hallinan held his silence on the matter after he signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of a $150,000 settlement with the governor, who has denied grabbing his crotch. But in late October, he spoke out, claiming he has been the target of death threats, adding he called several prominent New Mexico political leaders to tell them about the 2018 incident.

“I didn’t disclose the full details,” Hallinan told The New Mexican recently. “I disclosed a decent amount of what happened, but I did not disclose enough to put any of them in a situation where they would have any responsibility.”

12. There are a number of judicial seats up for grabs, too — what’s the skinny on those?

Two Republicans are attempting to unseat Democratic appointees seeking election to their posts on the New Mexico Supreme Court in the upcoming general election.

Thomas Montoya is seeking to replace appointed Justice Julie Vargas in Position 1. Kerry Morris is seeking the position two seat currently held by Justice Briana Zamora.

On the state Court of Appeals, Judge Gerald E. Baca, a Democrat appointed in 2021, is defending his position one seat against two challengers: Republican candidate Barbara Johnson and Libertarian Sophie Cooper. Position 2 appointee Katherine Ann Wray — a Democrat who was named to the court last year — is also facing two challengers: Republican Gertrude Lee and Libertarian Stephen Curtis.

Montoya, Morris and Lee are part of a slate of Republican candidates whose campaign ads feature the slogan “Law Before Politics” and say one of the reasons people should elect them is to bring more balance of political affiliation to New Mexico’s appellate courts, which are dominated by Democrats.

13. Will we see another barrage of political ads in ’23?

Not on this level. There are no statewide races next year. But in 2024, the next presidential election year, New Mexico will see contests in the state House and Senate, and for a U.S. Senate seat.

14. Campaign signs: When will those come down? 

That depends on each municipality’s guidelines. In the city of Santa Fe, candidates have five days after Election Day to remove those signs.

15. All this election hype has me wanting to see an election-themed film, particularly one set in New Mexico? Any suggestions?

You bet. Try 2008’s Swing Vote, set and mostly shot in New Mexico, in which Kevin Costner plays a good natured working-class New Mexican who finds his still-uncast vote will make the difference in New Mexico’s electoral count.

It’s a charming Frank Capra-esque comedy that reminds you of the importance of every single ballot.

But the best part? If you can stream it, there are no political commercials.

Reporter Phaedra Haywood and Assistant City Editor Nathan Brown contributed.

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