Mar. 2—At least Amarillo Steve Pearce flexed his ineptitude during a pointless exercise.
Pearce, chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, oversaw ponderous and bungled vote-counting at his organization’s pre-primary nominating convention.
In truth, Pearce’s failures didn’t amount to much of significance. They instead raised the question of why New Mexico even bothers staging pre-primary conventions.
Only political junkies who are nostalgic for smoke-filled rooms and the shenanigans of ward bosses see value in events like the one Pearce botched.
When the Republicans’ counting was finally done, three candidates for governor made the primary election ballot. Each received at least 20 percent of the votes from delegates.
A fourth candidate, former television weatherman Mark Ronchetti, finished below the threshold. His weak showing didn’t matter, except for the blow to his ego.
Ronchetti had already collected more than enough petition signatures to qualify for the June primary election. The fact that he performed poorly at a small convention of party insiders won’t mean anything to tens of thousands of Republicans voting in the primary.
The presence of three other Republicans on the primary ballot continues to make Ronchetti the favorite to win the nomination.
He spent 20 years as an on-air personality in the Albuquerque television market, which covers most of New Mexico. Ronchetti has never held elective office, but he is far better-known than the candidates who bested him at the convention.
Jay Block, a Sandoval County commissioner, and state Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences look like regional candidates.
Greg Zanetti, a West Point graduate, retired brigadier general and a financial adviser in Albuquerque, might be the least recognizable of the four contenders.
It’s possible Zanetti, Dow and Block have forgotten more about government than Ronchetti will ever know. But the topic of the moment is politics, an endeavor different from government.
Ronchetti has run well in a statewide election, something none of the others can claim.
As a first-time candidate, Ronchetti received
418,000 votes in the 2020 U.S. Senate election he lost to Democrat Ben Ray Luján. Put another way, Ronchetti had 16,500 more votes in New Mexico than then-President Donald Trump.
All of this happened with Ronchetti running a clumsy campaign in which he tried to downplay criticism he had leveled at Trump. Ronchetti once denigrated Trump as “Orange.”
Like Trump, Ronchetti used television and little else develop a political base.
Republicans who wanted to defeat Ronchetti this year should have consolidated behind one candidate. The more opponents Ronchetti has in the gubernatorial primary, the more likely that people who don’t respect him will split their votes between three candidates.
Block led the pack at the convention, giving him top position on the ballot. It might be worth a few votes — if you believe some people are mindless enough to choose the first name they see.
Ronchetti didn’t have top-line designation on the primary ballot in his Senate campaign, but he took 56 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Voters knew him, or thought they did. His opponents were faces in the crowd.
Pre-primary conventions aren’t of value to Democrats any more than Republicans.
Then-Attorney General Gary King failed to make the ballot for governor at the 2014 Democratic confab.
The son of New Mexico’s longest-serving governor, King petitioned onto the ballot.
Of the five Democratic candidates in the governor’s race, only King was known across the state.
Delegates were convinced King couldn’t defeat Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. But they wasted time knocking him down at the convention instead of recruiting a stronger candidate. Martinez crushed King.
Ronchetti still looks like his party’s best hope of unseating Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Block will say otherwise. He once told me he had spent many months traveling the state to win over voters. The question is whether Block’s months on the stump can overcome Ronchetti’s decades on television.
As for Pearce, the Republican chairman did no favors for Block, Zanetti and Dow.
Counting the votes of
748 convention delegates was the sort of job a town clerk could have handled in an hour. Pearce’s charges spent much of a day tallying results, but still couldn’t do the job well.
They initially listed Michelle Garcia Holmes with 42 percent of the delegates in the 1st Congressional District. She actually received 28 percent, Pearce’s camp later admitted.
Pearce often claims election fraud can be easy enough. He sidestepped the importance of his own blunder in a media handout: “Garcia Holmes will still be on the ballot in June,” it stated.
So will four candidates for governor. Pearce stole the headlines from them with his poorly run convention.
And by doing his worst, Amarillo Steve kept the spotlight off Ronchetti’s bad day.