RUIDOSO, N.M. – Hoping for a political comeback after a string of disappointing election cycles, New Mexico Republicans flocked to Ruidoso Saturday, for their pre-primary convention.
Delegates from across the state convened to determine which of their party’s candidates will make it onto the June primary ballot in congressional, statewide and judicial races.
According to party officials, about 1,000 people were in attendance, including delegates, activists, candidates and elected officials.
Delegate voting was marred by a malfunction involving the party’s email-based voting system that forced delegates to use paper ballots. That led to frustration and vote counting that lasted well into the night. Final results were not released until late Saturday night.
Candidates for office must win the support of 20% of delegates to advance to the primary election. When the votes were counted, three of the five candidates for governor met that threshold.
Jay Block, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and current member of the Sandoval County Board of Commissioners, received 199 delegates’ votes, edging out state Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, who received 192.
Greg Zanetti, a retired New Mexico National Guard Brigadier General and financial advisor, made it onto the ballot with 157 votes.
Both Mark Ronchetti, a former television meteorologist, and Ethel Maharg, former mayor of the village of Cuba and an anti-abortion rights activist, each with less than the 20% needed to advance to the primary. Ronchetti received 110 votes, while Maharg trailed with 29.
Ronchetti though will be on the ballot because his campaign heading into the convention had collected 7,000 petition signatures, more than enough to qualify.
In an email Monday, Maharg indicated she will attempt to get the signatures needed to continue her campaign.
In his convention speech, Ronchetti urged his delegate supporters to vote to place other candidates on the primary ballot, something he described as a bid for party unity.
‘I believe every Republican here should be on the ballot with me,’ he said.
Ronchetti also bemoaned the sometimes caustic tone of the primary contest, and said the focus should be on defeating current Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
‘If you look around this room, it’s very clear, we are all partners in a fight to beat the one person that we know we have to triumph over, and that is Michelle Lujan Grisham,’ Ronchetti said.
In their speeches, most of the Republican contenders for governor painted a bleak picture of the state, nation and world.
‘Today, Marxism and intolerance are on the move around the world. And here at home our freedoms and way of life are at stake today now more than ever,’ Block said.
‘Our state and our nation is at risk of losing its identity,’ Dow warned.
But they saved their harshest attacks for Lujan Grisham. They slammed her administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and blamed her for everything ranging from the state’s high crime rate to the state’s low ranking on a host of social and economic categories.
The only legislator in the race, Dow portrayed herself as a steadfast opponent of the legislative agenda of Lujan Grisham and the Democratic-controlled Legislature. She touted a rare victory for Republicans this past legislative session: the blocking of a voting rights bill.
‘Even when we are in the minority, when we are united, we are going to win,’ Dow said.
Block vowed that if elected, on his first day in office, he will sign a flurry of executive orders on conservative issues ranging from banning the teaching of so-called critical race theory in schools; limiting transgender rights and rolling back the state’s COVID-19 policies.
‘In order to get that done, you need someone with battle-tested experience. As a retired lieutenant colonel, entrusted with the nation’s nuclear launch codes, and a combat veteran, I know how to fight and win,’ Block said.
Zanetti touted his resume.
‘The other gubernatorial candidates have their strengths, but none of them have operated at the highest levels of the military, business or finance. They have not managed thousands of troops or millions in assets. And none has the leadership experience to deal with what we all face,’ he said.
In a statement Saturday, Delany Corcoran, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of New Mexico, dismissed the attacks against Lujan Grisham.
‘The field of GOP candidates for governor would rather do anything other than explain their plan to lead our state. Voters will see right through their infighting and blustering–because Governor Lujan Grisham and Democratic leaders have consistently delivered for New Mexicans, keeping our communities safe, investing in our education system, and providing for New Mexico families,’ she said.