Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
CARLSBAD – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attacked “woke ideology” and slammed vaccine mandates Sunday during a boisterous rally in New Mexico’s conservative oil patch, where he urged voters to support Republican Mark Ronchetti’s bid for governor.
In a 40-minute speech before about 1,000 people, DeSantis leaned heavily into culture war issues, blasting critical race theory and transgender medical treatment for children.
He described his home state as a beacon of prosperity, safety and common sense, and he urged New Mexicans to defeat New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, this fall and elect Ronchetti.
DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, repeatedly drew a sharp contrast between his state’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and Lujan Grisham’s.
New Mexico, he said, had harmed children by shutting down in-person schooling, damaged business by requiring closures and infringed on people’s rights by pushing for vaccinations.
“No Floridian should ever have to choose – heck no American – between a job they need and a shot they don’t want,” DeSantis said.
Lujan Grisham last year signed an order requiring state employees to be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. Her administration also enacted a host of business restrictions at the height of the pandemic, contending they were essential to saving lives and easing the burden on New Mexico’s overwhelmed hospitals and doctors.
Lujan Grisham’s campaign described Ronchetti’s rally with DeSantis as evidence that he would bring Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda to New Mexico.
Ronchetti and DeSantis “are desperately seeking Donald Trump’s approval. Nothing more, nothing less,” she said on social media.
In one tweet, she characterized them as “Two MAGA peas in a pod.”
A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee weighed in, too, describing DeSantis, Ronchetti and Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell as the embodiment of “what today’s Republican Party stands for: criminalizing abortion, punishing doctors, and cutting taxes for the rich and ultra-wealthy at the expense of middle-class families.”
DeSantis spoke at a large exhibit hall in Carlsbad before an audience dotted with cowboy hats and American flag T-shirts. He didn’t mention abortion or former President Trump by name, but he weighed in heavily against what he described as “woke institutions,” including the medical profession and the Walt Disney Company.
Florida has a day dedicated, he said, to teaching students about the horrors of communism.
“We’ve seen the last few years a great American exodus,” DeSantis said, “and Florida has been the promised land for so many people throughout the country.”
People gravitate to Florida, he said, “because they see we’re governing with common sense. They see we’re governing in accordance with basic American values.”
The rally put Ronchetti on stage with a rising star on the right: DeSantis has grabbed attention as governor of the nation’s third-most populous state by signing into law a 15-week abortion ban with no exception for rape or incest, and he has feuded with Disney over its opposition to a measure critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Ronchetti, by contrast, hasn’t leaned heavily into social issues during his gubernatorial campaign. He has pushed instead to craft a more moderate image and focused recent campaign ads on crime, the border and the economy.
In Sunday’s rally, Ronchetti stuck to the familiar themes of his campaign – fighting crime, keeping more defendants in jail as they await trial, limiting government spending and supporting small businesses.
“My promise to you as governor: Your safety is my first priority. Enough of the excuses,” he said.
Herrell, whose district covers southern New Mexico and part of Albuquerque, took aim at the recent climate and health bill passed by Democrats in Congress.
The country needs “more God and less government,” she said.
DeSantis has built an unabashedly conservative reputation. Ronchetti, by contrast, faced criticism during the GOP primary over whether he had fully embraced Donald Trump.
On Sunday, Ronchetti stuck to jabs at Lujan Grisham rather than broader criticism of the left – ground DeSantis covered repeatedly.
“New Mexico has a government that’s never been bigger and never been richer,” Ronchetti said. “Are you feeling that benefit?”
A resounding “no” erupted from the crowd.
Democrats, however, say Ronchetti is trying to sanitize his real political positions, as shown by his rally with DeSantis and the remarks of a megachurch pastor who said Ronchetti’s goal is to end abortion in New Mexico, not just ban it after 15 weeks, with some exceptions.
The Democratic Party of New Mexico slammed Ronchetti for campaigning with DeSantis.
“Whether he’s trying to ban abortion and punish women and doctors in FL, or his homophobic ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill,” the party said on social media, “DeSantis proudly carries the MAGA torch. It’s no surprise that Mark Ronchetti and Yvette Herrell are jumping at the opportunity to rub shoulders with radical DeSantis.”
At least one reporter appears to have been blocked from covering the rally.
Marisa Demarco of Source New Mexico, an independent, nonprofit news organization, said senior reporter Shaun Griswold was denied press credentials ahead of time, secured a ticket as a member of the public and was ejected Sunday.
Enrique Knell, a spokesman for the Ronchetti campaign, said Source New Mexico was denied a credential because they are “a left-wing advocacy group, not a legitimate news organization.”