Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham handily dispatched former television weatherman Mark Ronchetti to win a second term as New Mexico’s governor, other Democrats captured every statewide race, plus the party kept control of two of three congressional seats on the ballot and appears to have narrowly eeked out a flip in the southernmost district, according to early, unofficial general election results.
A recently redrawn map made for a tight race between Democrat Gabriel Vasquez and Republican US Rep. Yvette Herrell for the Congressional District 2 seat. It was too close to call as of press time for SFR’s print edition, but early-morning reports show Vasquez had pulled ahead. Democratic Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury handily both won second terms.
Maggie Toulouse Oliver will serve another term as secretary of state; Laura Montoya beat Harry Montoya (no relation) to take over the treasurer’s office; Raúl Torrez rolled Jeremy Gay to become attorney general; Joseph Maestas will continue a long procession of Dems as state auditor and Stephanie Garcia Richard hung on to her spot as state Land Commissioner.
Closer to home, state Rep. Andrea Romero had no trouble with Jay Groseclose to complete the near-perfect night for the Blue Team.
Moderate turnout marked Election Day ‘22: With all the precincts reporting, officials report more than 703,000 votes—that’s nearly 52% of all those registered in the state. The figure tracks behind the 56% of total voters who chose candidates during the last midterm/gubernatorial election in 2018. And it’s a higher share than the Susana Martinez vs. Gary King contest in 2014, when just 40% of registered voters did their thing. In Santa Fe County, which reported complete results as of midnight, 62% of voters cast ballots.
But midterm years seldom, if ever, approach the totals seen in presidential election cycles. More than two-thirds of registered voters turned out to help Joe Biden thump Donald Trump in New Mexico two years ago, and 62% voted in the 2016 election. The 2020 election was also a banner year for absentee ballots thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year those returned to a more typical proportion with early reports showing about 13% of voters choosing absentee, 52% voting early and 34% on Election Day.
Lujan Grisham, who walked away with 52% of total votes, took some last-minute shots at Ronchetti in her victory speech around 10 pm at The Clyde Hotel in Albuquerque.
“I want you to know, if it seemed like we were taking a minute, or two, or 10, it’s because I was backstage, checking the weather,” she told the crowd.
She continued with another meteoroligical reference, saying the “forecast for New Mexico” is four more years of support for students, teachers and workers across the state, while praising voters for rejecting a Ronchetti governorship.
“We said, ‘hell no’ to outsiders who think they can tell us how to live and run our state without understanding our culture, our history and our communities,” Lujan Grisham said.
Her tone shifted by the end of her speech, encouraging her supporters to “be nice” moving forward, with a plea to stop and move beyond “the election rhetoric.”
In part, the victory was a referendum on the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a summer of devastating wildfires and environmental issues, but she leaned heavily on supporters who agree with her stance on access to abortion compared to the Republican anti-abortion platform.
“Tonight, New Mexico said ‘no’ to a political crusade that wants to turn women into second class citizens,” Lujan Grisham said.
Ronchetti came close to conceding Tuesday night in a speech to supporters at Hotel Albuquerque.
“The reality is for our campaign, it will likely come to an end tonight without winning,” he said.
He also shared with the crowd a Ronchetti family credo of sorts.
“When you walk down God’s path, you’re never assured of a result,” he said from the stage he shared with his wife and two daughters. “But what you are assured of is, along the way, to be better for what you’ve done when you walk next to him. And we are better as a family for what we’ve done.”
Lujan Grisham supporters like to call Ronchetti an outsider but he has lived in New Mexico for more than 20 years. He ran unsuccessfully for US Senate against Sen. Ben Ray Luján in 2020.
If bedrock issues driving voters to the polls and a long, muddy slog through hyperbolic campaign mailers, creepy-music-tracked television ads and internet memes are your thing, this was the election for you.
The race at the top of the ticket never even threatened civility, given two candidates who clearly would not have offered even a modicum of saliva had the other suddenly burst into flames. Lujan Grisham, who’s résumé includes service as a county commissioner, cabinet secretary and congresswoman, climbed all over Ronchetti—seemingly before he even announced his candidacy—for his lack of political experience and his ever-changing positions on Trump, abortion rights and more. The longtime KRQE-TV green-screen warrior fired back with frequency, seizing on, among other morsels, the governor’s $150,000 payout to settle sexual misconduct claims leveled by James Hallinan, one of her previous campaign staffers.
Hallinan made Ronchetti-favorable news again in the campaign’s waning days when Albuquerque-based attorney Thomas Grover posted screenshots of 2018 text messages between Hallinan and then-KOB-TV photographer Joseph Lynch on Twitter. The messages showed that Lynch had leaked questions for the station’s upcoming debate between Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce to the Lujan Grisham campaign in advance.
It’s not clear what impact the incessant sparring had on voter behavior, but the US Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe vs. Wade certainly spurred trips to the polls.
Lujan Grisham supported the Legislature’s vote to repeal a decades-old abortion ban prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, signed an executive order protecting abortion providers here against discipline due to out-of-state residents receiving abortion services and pledged $10 million to build a women’s health care facility in Southern New Mexico.
An Albuquerque mega-church pastor says Ronchetti vowed to support a total abortion ban. The candidate backed off that position early on and said last month he wanted to see abortion on the ballot in New Mexico in a future election.
Chaya Babu, who moved to Santa Fe from New York in January, tells SFR there were many issues she felt strongly about this year, but the biggest was “mainly abortion.”
Babu, who took advantage of same-day voter registration, and cast a vote around lunchtime near downtown straight-ticket for Democrats because of abortion access. “I really felt like shit’s hitting the fan,” Babu says.
Angela Schackel Bordegaray, who works as a planner for the City of Santa Fe, tells SFR she enthusiastically voted for Lujan Grisham and State Land Commissioner Garcia Richard, but that she’s also “pretty disgusted with both parties.”
Without mentioning abortion access, Bordegaray says the biggest issue for her this cycle is women’s rights. “I’ve been a second class citizen, as has my daughter, as has my mother,” she says.
Marisa Rodriguez, a student in the nursing program at Santa Fe Community College, recently turned 18 and voted for the first time at the Southside Library.
“If you believe in something, you should just take 15 minutes out of your day to make the change,” she says. Rodriguez says the governor’s race was among the top on her mind, particularly with the issue of abortion and “just making sure that as women we can keep all of our rights. I’m not wanting to argue with people because if you believe that’s what you believe, but it’s just a thing of people being over-excessive about it and like going to the facilities and just spreading a message that isn’t necessary. And so, I feel like everyone should have a choice in what they do.”
Kay Tredwell, who voted at the Christian Life Santa Fe polling location in the early evening, tells SFR she’s a registered Republican, but for years has stuck with mostly Democratic candidates except in some local elections.
“I think the Republican Party drove me out by being too pinche,” Tredwell says.
She voted for Lujan Grisham because of the governor’s stance on abortion access, but also because she finds Ronchetti’s plan to leave abortion to voters offensive.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s business in any way,” Tredwell says. “And I was very sad to see this idea that we’re going to have a statewide referendum that Mark Ronchetti was putting forward on abortion. Not only do I not want any politicians deciding that, I don’t want anybody else deciding that at all, ever.”
It was an expensive campaign, too, with Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti each raising nearly $6.5 million for the general election and spending from PACs tipping even more cash. Two PACs supporting Democratic candidates, A Stronger New Mexico and ActBlue, each reported more than $10 million as the cycle’s top-spending committees.
Democrats didn’t fare as well elsewhere in the nation, losing the governor’s contests in Florida, Texas, for example, though Republicans didn’t make the big wave they had hope for in the midterms with a Dem sitting in the White House. As of 5:35 am, The New York Times reported “control of Congress hung in the balance... with Democrats and Republicans closely monitoring yet-to-be-called Senate races in Nevada and Arizona, as well as a tight contest in Georgia that may be headed for a December runoff.”
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who won her race Tuesday night, announced ahead of Election Day she and her staff would oversee the election from a remote location because of safety concerns and unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud across both the US and the state. But Toulouse Oliver tells SFR things went pretty smoothly across New Mexico on Election Day.
“There’s always little issues here and there,” she says. “But as a system, as a whole, it went really well today. I think every time we run an election here in New Mexico, we do a better job.”
Toulouse Oliver adds though, she “would not be shocked” if her office sees legal challenges “targeted” towards races that are “particularly close.”
In the Santa Fe-centric congressional District 3, Democrat Teresa Leger Fernández garnered 55% of votes, winning easily in a rematch against Republican Alexis Martinez Johnson, according to early, unofficial results. US Rep. Melanie Stansbury had no trouble with former police officer and Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes to keep her seat in CD1 with 57% of votes.
Several hundred votes separated Herrell and Vasquez around midnight, but by 1:30 am, results showed a spread of more than 1,000 votes: Vazquez earning 96,253 and Harrell with 95,238.
All but one Santa Fe-based position in the state Legislature were uncontested on the general election ballot, with Reena Szczepanski stepping into a seat being vacated by Brian Egolf and a slate of Democratic incumbents who sailed into return terms. Rep. Andrea Romero held onto her District 46 seat with 77% of the vote.
State Supreme Court justices Julie Vargas and Briana Zamora, both Democrats, cruised to victory against Republican opponents, and dozens of judges around the state won retention elections, meaning they’ll stay on the bench at least another term.
Julia Goldberg contributed reporting. Read more voter and candidate comments from earlier in the day at sfreporter.com/elections.