Friday marks the first day candidates for statewide public offices can begin gathering signatures to get on the ballot for the June primary.
While nominating petition forms for the governor’s race weren’t available until now, the field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination already has taken shape.
Or has it?
Seven Republicans have announced their intention to seek the nomination, touting their varying experiences and skill sets as the best to go toe-to-toe against Democratic incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in November 2022.
But at least two questions remain: Will anyone else get in the race? And with only nine months until the primary, will they have enough time to run an effective campaign?
Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said would-be contenders still have time, though it’s running out.
“We’ve seen it before, you know, when someone comes in at the last minute,” he said. “If they have the backing that they need, I don’t think [it’s too late]. I think it’s getting close to there, though. I think probably if you haven’t come in by middle of November, that may be pushing it.”
Brandt said the pool of GOP candidates seeking the nomination for governor may grow.
“There’s been several names floated around,” he said. “I’ve talked to a couple of people personally, but I can’t share any information.”
While he wouldn’t divulge details, Brandt acknowledged he’s spoken about the governor’s race with Mark Ronchetti, a popular TV weatherman who launched a close but unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate against Ben Ray Luján last year.
“It’s really between him and his wife as to whether or not he wants to do that again,” Brandt said. “It’s a really tough thing. He’s still got young kids at home, needs to be able to support his family. It’d be quite a sacrifice personally for him to get in this race.”
Ronchetti did not return messages seeking comment.
But if he did throw his name into the hat, he would have an advantage over the seven Republicans who already have announced their intentions, Gabriel Sanchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, wrote in an email.
Of the seven hopefuls, none has statewide name recognition, Sanchez wrote. “That is why there is a lot of interest in whether Ronchetti will announce a campaign, as he has strong and positive name recognition and has shown the ability to perform well in a statewide race.”
Sanchez added: “If he were to announce he would be the front-runner for the GOP nomination in my view.”
He believes there is still plenty of time for someone to mount a strong campaign for governor. But he said they would need two important resources: the ability to raise campaign funds and name recognition.
“For a statewide race it is critical that a candidate have positive name recognition across the state, and although candidates that do not bring that asset to the race when they announce can generate name ID through their campaign, this takes time and costs a lot of money,” Sanchez wrote.
Of the seven Republicans seeking the nomination, state Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences is said to have the highest name recognition.
The other candidates in the race are business owner Karen Bedonie, who touts herself as the only Native American contender; Jay Block, a Sandoval County commissioner and retired Air Force officer; Ethel Maharg, a former mayor of the village of Cuba who now serves as the executive director of the Albuquerque-based Right to Life Committee of New Mexico; Louie Sanchez, a medical sales representative and shooting range owner; Tim Walsh, a retired teacher who worked as an education adviser to former Gov. Gary Johnson; and investment adviser and West Point graduate Greg Zanetti.
Dow calls herself the front-runner.
Louie Sanchez, who sought the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in 2020, wrote in a statement, “Any assumption that there’s a ‘frontrunner’ is just that — a baseless assumption undermining the vital role Republican primary voters will play in vetting the candidates and doing their own research to decide who is best equipped to take the fight to Lujan Grisham.”
Louie Sanchez called the race “wide open,” which gives each of the candidates the opportunity to take their message directly to the voters.
“I look forward to the campaign ahead and the opportunity to continue traveling the state so that New Mexicans can make their voices heard,” he wrote.
Steve Pearce, chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, declined a request for an interview. The party also declined to answer a number of questions sent by email, including whether any other candidates are considering seeking the nomination for governor or which of the seven has the best chance of unseating Lujan Grisham.
“Right now it’s too early for RPNM to address the many candidates who are seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination or to discuss the campaigns,” spokesman Mike Curtis wrote in a statement.
Delaney Corcoran, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of New Mexico, asserted the field of GOP candidates for governor is in disarray.
“The only thing the Republican candidates have demonstrated is that they’re in a race to see who can be most like Donald Trump and appeal to the far right,” she wrote in an email. “From the infighting to the amateurish organizations to the out-of-touch policies, it’s clear GOP Chairman Steve Pearce has lost control of the Republican Party of New Mexico. The future of the GOP in New Mexico looks bleak.”
In a statement, Pearce fired back, writing that the Republican Party of New Mexico is “more organized and prepared to take back our state than ever before.” He also wrote the party has a vision, strong candidates and is determined to see that the rights and freedoms of New Mexico citizens are protected.
“Gov. Lujan Grisham has consistently failed New Mexico and its residents: she has destroyed our economy, shuttered businesses, stripped away the freedoms of New Mexicans, exceeded her authority as governor with her decrees and has even had to pay hush money surrounding her sexual harassment of her staff,” he wrote, referring to a settlement with her former campaign spokesman, who accused the governor of grabbing his crotch.
“Her record is miserable, and her progressive agenda continues to embarrass us as a state. She has driven families out of New Mexico to seek a better education, and businesses have also fled our state. This Governor has also failed our citizens when it comes to crime, and she flatly refuses to acknowledge the ongoing crisis at the southern border,” Pearce wrote. “Any Republican gubernatorial candidate would do a better job, and we are determined to take the governor’s office next year.”
Will Reinert, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, also took aim at Lujan Grisham, writing in an email that “countless personal and professional scandals” continue to distract the governor and leave her incapable of effectively governing the state.
“A violent crime wave, the worst public school education in the country, and an overrun southern border deserve a Republican governor capable of focusing solely on turning the state around,” he wrote.