Anti-gun governor starting to sweat in New Mexico campaign bid

AP Photo/Morgan Lee

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been busy trying to defend her record on crime as the state’s top executive; an issue that’s emerged as one of the defining topics of this year’s gubernatorial race. Republican Mark Ronchetti has been hammering Lujan Grisham over the rise in violent crime under her watch, including the recent murder of a Roswell woman by a man who was well known to the criminal justice system, and it appears that the Republican’s focus on crime is paying dividends.

For months, Lujan Grisham has led comfortably in public polling, but there’ve been a few signs that Ronchetti has been closing the gap. A poll from Democratic polling firm PPP earlier this month found Lujan Grisham leading her Republican opponent 48-40, but the state’s most recent survey of New Mexico voters conducted by the Republican-leaning outfit Trafalgar Group released on Monday shows Ronchetti has pulled ahead and is now leading Lujan Grisham by a single point, 47-46.

Obviously this is just one poll, so take it with as many grains of salt as you like, but Trafalgar has had a pretty good track record over the last couple of election cycles, and we’ve certainly seen a lot of other races tighten up over the past couple of weeks, so it’s not inconceivable that Ronchetti really is closing the gap or has possibly even taken the lead.

The survey results released by Trafalgar don’t include a breakdown of support by party identification, but if Ronchetti is indeed now in the lead, it’s because he’s attracting large numbers of independent voters to his camp. As of just a few months ago, New Mexico Democrats outnumbered Republicans by almost 180,000 registered voters, but there are also nearly 300,000 independent voters in the state, and if they’re breaking late for the Republican then even a “safe” blue state like New Mexico will be in play on Election Day.

Lujan Grisham and her fellow Democrats have been doing their best to push back against Ronchetti’s accusations that the party is soft on crime, but they’re struggling with their messaging. For instance, the incumbent is currently running ads claiming that the Republican would slash police budgets by “billions” when he was actually talking about holding Democratic lawmakers’ feet to the fire in terms of funding for police and prosecutors.

Lujan Grisham’s ad points to another piece of evidence that seemingly shows Ronchetti could harm government budgets. Lujan Grisham’s ad points to what Ronchetti said on a podcast.

On the “Ruthless” podcast, Ronchetti said, in part: “You can take my own budget and try to pass it, and I won’t sign it until [legislators] bring us an end to catch and release, stiffening penalties for violent criminals, and making sure to return qualified immunity to our police officers.”

Lujan Grisham cites this claim that he’d veto any state budgets if New Mexico’s legislators don’t pass tough-on-crime legislation. And of course, if Ronchetti actually did that (if it wasn’t just hyperbole), funding to education, police and health care programs through state agencies could be tied up in a legislative battle, but that’s still not “billions in cuts.”

Between the misleading ads and trotting out campaign surrogates to offer half-hearted explanations about why the governor shouldn’t be held accountable for the soft-on-crime policies that are allowing individuals to roam free when they should be behind bars, it’s evident that Lujan Grisham and New Mexico Democrats are worried that what should have been a relatively easy re-election campaign is now in serious trouble.

Another sign? Ronchetti’s fundraising numbers are defying expectations.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti outraised Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham by close to $330,000 in the most recent campaign finance reporting period — a jolt of good news for the former TV weatherman following a series of polls showed him trailing the incumbent Democrat.

In addition to raising more money than Lujan Grisham between Sept. 6 and Oct. 3, Ronchetti will enter the final weeks of the campaign season with more cash on hand, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday.

“BOOM!” Ronchetti tweeted after the fundraising totals were revealed on the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office website. “We just out raised the sitting governor in the most important financial period of the election season.”

Ronchetti raised $1.45 million during the roughly four-week period, leaving him with a campaign war chest of nearly $2.5 million.

Lujan Grisham raised $1.12 million during the same time frame, leaving her with a closing balance of almost $1.7 million — or about $800,000 less than her chief challenger in the race.

Lujan Grisham has been an ardent supporter of new gun control laws while she’s been in office, signing “universal background check” and “red flag” legislation into law. Those efforts targeting legal gun owners have had no impact on the state’s violent crime rate, however, which has risen by 32% since 2014. At the same time, arrests have plunged by almost the same amount, and maybe New Mexicans are finally starting to wake up to the fact that you don’t fight violent crime by making it harder for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves.

Expect gun control groups to drop some serious cash in New Mexico in the waning days of the campaign as they try to keep one of their staunchest allies in office. And to be fair, I still think Lujan Grisham is the favorite in this race, but Ronchetti has the momentum heading down the home stretch. If New Mexico gun owners and Second Amendment supporters turn out and vote, they have the opportunity to send an anti-gun governor packing… and to replace her with an elected official who doesn’t see their right to keep and bear arms as a wrong that must be restricted by any means possible.