ALBUQUERQUE — Mark Ronchetti’s dreams of reclaiming the Governor’s Office for the Republican Party were dashed Tuesday, and he didn’t make supporters wait deep into the night to know the hard truth.
A little past 9:30 p.m., Ronchetti took the stage at the Hotel Albuquerque to tell supporters his campaign “likely to come to an end tonight without winning.”
The former television weatherman, who jumped into the race nearly a year ago, said just because you walk down God’s path does not mean you will win. But, he added, you are “assured to be better for what you’ve done for him.”
Joined by his wife, Krysty, and one of his daughters, Ronchetti struck a composed, even classy tone as he urged those in the room to keep fighting to make their voices heard.
“Do not give up on the promise of what New Mexico can become,” he said.
Nor did he cast blame on others or suggest any hint of election fraud.
“Don’t blame anybody,” he said. “We are thankful for the ride.”
He urged members of both major political parties to “take the red jerseys off, take the blue jerseys off,” adding the issues facing the state — including high crime rates — are neither Democratic nor Republican issues.
“It’s about getting your voices heard,” he said before departing the stage in the ballroom where he spoke.
By late Tuesday, Lujan Grisham had netted about 51 percent of the vote to Ronchetti’s 46 percent with more than 630,000 votes tallied. Libertarian Karen Bedonie had 1 percent of the vote.
Though many in the crowd were clearly disappointed with the results, they applauded Ronchetti and bid him goodnight with cries of, “We love you, Mark!”
The mood among the crowd was enthusiastic and upbeat as the gathering began around 6 p.m. Several people said they believed Ronchetti would win, while others said they “hoped” he would win.
Nancy Campanozzi, who has lived in Albuquerque since the 1980s, was one of the hopeful. “I’ve got my fingers crossed,” she said.
She said upon meeting Ronchetti at a neighbor’s house during his campaign she asked him what his No. 1 priority would be if elected. She said he told her he would first “address the crime issue in the city and the county. It’s getting out of control, and it’s scary.”
The crowd’s spirits were lifted around 7:35 p.m. when Krysty Ronchetti took the stage to say her husband would appear once the final results were in. She thanked volunteers for the campaign and stressed her family’s faith in God, saying she and Mark spent a lot of time “in prayer” before he made a decision to run.
“Now we have given it our all,” she said. “I know we’re going to win tonight — and ultimately it will be because God made that happen.”
As the crowd waited for Ronchetti to take the stage in the ballroom, they watched election results from other states come in on a large television screen in the room tuned to Fox News. Every time a Republican win was announced, the crowd cheered and applauded.
But as the evening wore on and results from the Secretary of State’s Office showed Lujan Grisham holding a comfortable lead, the crowd thinned as a string of rock, pop and Western songs played to keep the energy going.
This was the second major political race Ronchetti, 49, has lost in recent years. In 2020, he lost a U.S. Senate race against Ben Ray Luján by 6 percentage points, putting him on the map as a viable political contender despite his lack of experience.
A married father of two, the longtime television weatherman proclaimed at the outset of his race that he would win because the Democratic leadership of the state had overlooked and neglected working class New Mexicans.
Ronchetti attempted to use his lack of experience as a plus, saying the state’s residents were no better off now than they were four years ago when Lujan Grisham first took office. He hit Lujan Grisham hard when it came to the state’s rising crime rates, saying she and Democratic lawmakers have supported soft-on-crime policies that have done little to stem the violence that threatens New Mexicans every day. Among other measures, he said he would do away with what he called “catch and release” bail reforms to keep people accused of violent crimes behind bars before trial.
Late in the campaign season, he embarked on a 10-day bus tour visiting over 40 sites in all 33 counties to reach as many voters as possible.
He often said the problems facing New Mexicans were neither Democratic nor Republican problems and said he would find a way to work with the Democratic-controlled Legislature when it comes to enacting laws that benefit all the state’s residents.
He also revealed a plan to provide stipends for teachers to help elementary school students who fell behind during the coronavirus pandemic catch up in reading. He called for higher salaries for school principals who have track records of running successful schools.
But Ronchetti also stumbled at least twice during his campaign, once by releasing a campaign ad about the impact of crime featuring his wife. In that ad, Krysty Ronchetti recalled a frightening break-in that tied rises in lawlessness in New Mexico to Lujan Grisham. The piece backfired almost immediately when it was discovered the break-in happened a decade ago when Susana Martinez, a Republican, was governor.
Lujan Grisham, among others, also criticized Ronchetti when it came to his stance on abortion. Though Ronchetti said he is pro-life, he initially told voters he would support legal abortion for the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and in cases of pregnancies involving rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk.
That came into question in July when the pastor of an Albuquerque megachurch told his congregation Ronchetti had told him he said that to get elected, after which he would work to outlaw abortion. In a statement, the pastor, Steve Smothermon, later walked back his comments. Then in October, Smothermon, during a sermon, said Ronchetti had made the statement.
Ronchetti later said if elected governor he would leave the question to voters via constitutional amendment.
For a political novice, Ronchetti also proved to be an apt fundraiser, collecting well over $9 million in campaign funds. Lujan Grisham netted $12.5 million in comparison.
But with Democrats making up nearly half the electorate in the state, he faced an uphill battle going in and clearly needed to draw some Democrats and independents to his cause.
Ronchetti, who grew up in Vermont, moved to New Mexico in the 1990s and worked as a meteorologist for two Albuquerque-based television stations — KOAT and KRQE — for years.