What if you had a party, but no one you liked showed up?
That’s the fix state Republicans are in. Their party lacks talent at the top. Worse, they don’t develop their more promising members for higher office.
Next year’s election for governor should be an opportunity for the Republicans. Those on the right and some who inhabit the middle ground are unhappy with the spending habits and management style of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
But with a bit more than 13 months before the primary election, the Republicans don’t have anyone who stands out as a legitimate contender to unseat Lujan Grisham. Had they groomed their best and brightest, Republican gubernatorial candidates already would be campaigning in vote-rich Albuquerque.
No Republican holds a statewide office. That leaves Steve Pearce, John Sanchez and U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell as the best-known Republicans in New Mexico.
Pearce and Sanchez fall into the category of retreads, having lost elections for the state’s top office.
Pearce, now the state Republican Party chairman, failed in 2018. Lujan Grisham defeated him in a landslide for the open governor’s seat.
Pearce now spends his days claiming Lujan Grisham is doing a bad job. His position as Republican chairman gives him a platform to carp about the governor.
Only a day ago, Pearce sent one of his typical statements: “The fact that Gov. Lujan Grisham vetoes our legislative process and grabs all the power she can is despicable.”
Reading Pearce’s clumsy analysis, one might believe Republican governors never used their veto pen.
Still, Pearce’s position might make him the Republicans’ most logical candidate for governor in 2022. But his chance of winning a rematch against Lujan Grisham is minuscule.
Sanchez has none of Pearce’s shrill style, but he is just as flawed. Like Pearce, Sanchez showed no critical thinking skills when it came to former President Donald Trump.
Sanchez and Pearce praised Trump even after the president had minimized the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. Neither rebuked Trump for his phony claims that the presidential election was stolen from him.
Since Trump twice lost New Mexico, his acolytes don’t make good candidates for statewide office.
As a campaigner, Sanchez’s best moment occurred more than 20 years ago. He defeated Raymond Sanchez, then speaker of the state House of Representatives, in 2000.
Inspired by this upset, Republicans nominated John Sanchez for governor in 2002. Democrat Bill Richardson routed Sanchez in the governor’s race.
Sanchez resurfaced as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010 and 2014. Former prosecutor Susana Martinez topped the Republican ticket and twice won the governor’s office.
Martinez’s success installed John Sanchez in the low-profile job of lieutenant governor. He doesn’t look like someone who can reinvent himself as a candidate for the top job.
Herrell, a freshman congresswoman from Alamogordo, isn’t positioned to try for governor. If she did, the seat in the 2nd Congressional District would open, giving Democrats a good shot at recapturing it.
With their bigger names either unlikely to run or to win, the Republicans don’t have many options.
Television weatherman Mark Ronchetti used high name identification to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate last year. Ronchetti, once a harsh critic of Trump, transformed himself into a booster of the president. That killed Ronchetti’s chances of winning the general election.
Now Ronchetti is back on the air, babbling about low-pressure systems. He probably couldn’t veer back into politics, at least not successfully.
Do Republicans have anyone who could mount an interesting, exciting campaign for governor? I see a couple of possibilities deep on their bench.
State Rep. Kelly Fajardo of Los Lunas is smart, diligent and reasonable. She could work with Democrats who control the state Legislature.
Fajardo, though, has no name recognition outside her district in Valencia County.
State Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho is in a circumstance similar to Fajardo’s. He is known primarily in his district in Sandoval County.
Harper, who has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, resembles a younger Bill Gates.
Harper is more tenacious than he looks. He once used his debating skills to disassemble a bad bill that would have reduced the amount of state lottery proceeds that pay for college scholarships.
For Fajardo and Harper, the clock for 2022 is already ticking. They would have to jump in now to have any opportunity to win a gubernatorial race.
Republicans in New Mexico aren’t going extinct. They dominate in Farmington, Hobbs, Clovis and other rural towns.
They also lose all the statewide races, usually by nominating candidates who are out of step with most of New Mexico.
It’s the perfect pattern for Lujan Grisham. With the GOP stuck in reverse, she can get a free ride to reelection.