Mark Ronchetti wasn’t candid with voters about his comeback. That’s a shocker, I know, a meteorologist-turned-politician looking for cloud cover to maximize media exposure.
Ronchetti, 48, would not have quit his six-figure job at television station KRQE unless he were running for governor.
Still, he claimed he would decide whether to enter the Republican primary only after prayerful contemplation and conversations with his wife and daughters. It’s a heck of a story. Someone out there might even believe it.
Ronchetti ran for New Mexico’s open U.S. Senate seat last year. He started late, then steamrolled over a no-name Republican field before losing the general election to Democrat Ben Ray Luján.
The brass at KRQE welcomed Ronchetti back to the airwaves after his defeat. Loyalty isn’t always a two-way street. Ronchetti has put his broadcasting career in abeyance to again seek high public office.
Let him dance until his, ahem, dramatic formal announcement. Ronchetti is going to run, and he will instantly become the favorite to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
My odds-making is based on a simple formula. Ronchetti has been on television in the Albuquerque market for most of the last 23 years. His name is more familiar to viewers and voters than those of the other half-dozen Republican candidates combined.
Recent history shows the rest of the field what it’s up against.
Few people remember the Republicans Ronchetti defeated in last year’s Senate primary. (They were Elisa Martinez and Gavin Clarkson). Ronchetti received 20,000 more votes than their combined total.
His showing was another sign that the culture of celebrity has never been more important in politics.
Trump University, Trump Vodka, Trump casinos, Trump Steaks and Trump Airlines all flopped. Former President Donald Trump, underwhelming as a businessman, won a term as president in large part because he starred on a reality television show.
New Mexico has few celebrities, and Ronchetti doesn’t meet the definition in a traditional sense. But it’s undeniable that his popularity as a television weatherman was the key to his winning the Senate primary.
Ronchetti also ran respectably in the general election against Luján, who was a well-known figure after serving 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
There are no moral victories in politics, but Ronchetti received 16,000 more votes in New Mexico’s general election than Trump did. That’s the sort of statistic that encourages a TV personality to have another go at professional politics.
Ronchetti can expect a rough reception from his competitors.
Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block, a Republican candidate for governor, dismisses Ronchetti as “an opportunist.”
“What has he done since November for the conservative movement?” Block asked. “The guy doesn’t have an original thought in his head.”
Block was no fan of Ronchetti’s during last year’s Senate campaign.
“He came to my house, begging and pleading for my endorsement,” Block said.
Block backed Martinez, as did many Republican officeholders. The hard truth was the public didn’t know Martinez. Voters recognized Ronchetti before he ran his first political advertisement.
Oddly enough, Ronchetti’s emergence sets the table for a fact-based gubernatorial campaign.
If Block or state Rep. Rebecca Dow or any other Republican candidate is to stop Ronchetti, he or she will have to demonstrate a superior command of government.
It won’t be enough for anyone to say the incumbent, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, somehow mishandled the coronavirus pandemic.
Every candidate will have to outline how to curb the spread of deadly COVID-19. They will have to specify their stances on vaccinations, booster shots, masks and safety practices in schools.
Generalities won’t work on a hundred other issues, either. What’s the strategy to curtail the black market when government-sanctioned recreational cannabis goes on sale? Does the state need a centralized Public Education Department, or should it pour that money into impoverished school districts? Don’t tell us addiction and crime are scourges. Specify how to reduce them.
Democrat Fred Harris lives in New Mexico now, but he became a national figure by defeating a celebrity Republican in a U.S. Senate race in Oklahoma. Harris upset legendary Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson by outpointing him on every issue, from race relations to national security.
If Sooner nation could reject Wilkinson, all things are possible under the right conditions. Harris was an exceptional candidate. Wilkinson oozed overconfidence.
Republicans have been in a long slump in New Mexico. Ronchetti knows his party’s bench is shallow for statewide elections.
In turn, Block says Ronchetti lost to one Luján and couldn’t beat the other. The campaign is about to get more interesting as the weatherman’s life turns stormy.