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Name recognition could give longtime KRQE-TV chief meteorologist Mark Ronchetti a leg up in a crowded Republican field in a bid to replace Democrat Tom Udall in the U.S. Senate.
But pollster Brian Sanderoff said it’s no guarantee that he’ll be the one representing the party in a campaign in which well-funded Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján has long been viewed as the favorite to win the seat.
Ronchetti announced his candidacy Tuesday, one day after stepping down from his position at KRQE. His campaign did not respond to a Journal request for an interview.
“He has to make the transition from popular TV weatherman to a candidate who is up on the issues,” said Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc. “If he can do that, then he has a realistic shot of winning the nomination. Any Republican has an uphill fight against Ben Ray Luján, if Luján is the Democratic nominee.”
Sanderoff said other television personalities have made successful runs for public office in New Mexico.
“Ken Schultz won the Albuquerque mayor’s race after years on television in car sales advertisements,” he said. “Casey Luna won lieutenant governor’s race after being on television for years with advertisements for his car dealership.”
Sanderoff said Ronchetti has the most name recognition of the five Republican candidates, with Albuquerque contractor Mick Rich – who was the party’s nominee in the race against Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich in 2018 – second. Former New Mexico State University professor Gavin Clarkson, anti-abortion activist Elisa Martinez and businessman Louie Sanchez are the other Republicans in the race.
Luján – who raised more than $1 million in each of the second and third quarters of fundraising in 2019 – is being challenged by accountant Andrew Perkins on the Democratic side.
“Like all New Mexicans, I want my kids to grow up in an America where opportunities are created right here in New Mexico – where the American dream is as strong today as it’s ever been. I’m concerned that Washington is standing in the way of that bright future,” Ronchetti said in a news release announcing his candidacy. “Sadly, politicians like Congressman Ben Ray Luján are focused more on fighting one another than fighting for us – and that’s why I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”
He was chief meteorologist at Albuquerque’s CBS-affiliated news station for 13 years. Ronchetti has worked in television news for more than 23 years.
“New Mexicans are fed up with the petty partisan politics that has gotten in the way of progress for New Mexicans,” Ronchetti said. “Hatred for your political opponents can never be stronger than your love of New Mexico – when it is, nobody wins. When partisanship is all that matters, it’s the people that get left behind – I will always put New Mexicans first.”
Rochetti touted his views as a pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment conservative Republican who believes in low taxes.
“Government’s No. 1 job should be to protect freedom and liberty and keep our families safe,” he said.
In his campaign video, he voiced concern about increasing crime, saying he couldn’t remember “it being this bad” in his almost 20 years in New Mexico. He also voiced support for President Donald Trump. “I don’t agree with every tweet or sound bite, but I support the president,” he said. “Many of his policies are improving the lives of New Mexicans.”
He credits Trump’s energy policies for creating jobs and adding to the state’s surplus in revenue and said he cheered the addition of “federal muscle” in fighting the state’s crime problems.
Luján’s campaign pushed back on Ronchetti’s criticism of the 3rd Congressional District representative. Luján campaign manager Brad Elkins said Luján “has delivered for New Mexico.”
“His strong record of advocating for economic opportunities, investments in our state, and resources for our families resonates with our communities,” Elkins said. “New Mexicans know Ben Ray and trust him to do what’s right for New Mexico.”