NM GOP officials face intraparty strife after latest election defeats - Albuquerque Journal

NM GOP officials face intraparty strife after latest election defeats

Republic candidate for Governor Mark Ronchetti hugs his wife Krysty during a campaign stop at the Fraternal Order of Police in Santa Fe, Monday, November 7, 2022. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico Republicans entered last week’s general election with high hopes.

But after seeing Democrats retain all statewide offices – including the Governor’s Office – and win the only Republican-held congressional district, state GOP officials are facing pressure about the direction of the party.

Some Republicans have called on party chairman Steve Pearce to resign or be replaced, but a state GOP spokesman said Monday that Pearce will seek reelection to the post next month.

However, the former congressman will face opposition when Republicans meet on Dec. 3 in Las Cruces.

Robert Aragon of Albuquerque confirmed Monday he plans to run for state GOP chairman, saying Republicans have not fared well in statewide and legislative races for two successive election cycles under Pearce’s leadership. Other candidates could also emerge for the post.

“The message is simply not resonating as it should to working families,” Aragon told the Journal.

Aragon, who stepped down as the state GOP’s 1st vice chairman when his wife, Peggy Muller-Aragon, sought the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor this year, said voter discontent with New Mexico’s low education ranking, homelessness and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic should have translated into more electoral wins.

“You would think that would be a recipe for success for an opposition party,” he said. “This should have been a year that we were more successful.”

State Republican Party spokesman Mike Curtis said Monday that Pearce was too busy for an interview, due in part to a “Steve Pearce Day” celebration in his hometown of Hobbs.

The proclamation, issued by Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb, was announced by the state GOP late Sunday evening, after Pearce told the Santa Fe New Mexican that progressive Democrats had redrawn a state legislative map that “no Republican can ever win” and indicated he did not plan to resign.

A letter circulated among Republicans last week called on Pearce and state GOP Executive Director Kim Skaggs to step down, citing sagging fundraising figures and a leadership style intolerant of dissenting opinions.

The letter was signed by James Navarette, an apparent pseudonym, though some current and former Republican candidates said they largely agree with its sentiment.

Isabella Solis of Las Cruces, a former Doña Ana county commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor, said she supports a change of leadership as part of a broader overhaul of the state GOP.

“I think the whole structure needs to be changed,” she said. “The Republican Party is not represented when it comes to state leaders.”

In addition, Steve Montanez of Las Cruces, a Republican consultant and former candidate, said Democrats have done a better job elevating candidates from local government ranks, such as Gabe Vasquez, a former Las Cruces city councilor who defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell in New Mexico’s redrawn 2nd Congressional District.

“I agree there really does need to be new party leadership,” he added. “If a pro sports team is losing, the first thing they usually do is replace the coaching staff.”

He also said GOP officials have failed to encourage early and absentee voting among party members, while adding that rhetoric about possible voter fraud might have contributed to relatively low turnout in some heavily Republican parts of the state.

Republicans running this year were divided when asked as part of a Journal candidate questionnaire whether they believed former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that he was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election, with some candidates declining to answer the question directly.

Of course, Republicans face structural disadvantages in New Mexico, as they are outnumbered by Democrats when it comes to statewide voter registration.

As of the start of this month, Democrats made up about 44% of registered voters statewide, while Republicans made up about 31% of voters, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Independent voters, Libertarians and those affiliating with minor political parties made up the rest.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, who ran for governor this year but ultimately came in second to Mark Ronchetti in a five-way primary race, said Monday the voter registration challenge and other factors should be considered as Republicans mull their party’s direction.

“It may be easiest to blame the outcome on Pearce, however that would be overlooking a national trend paired with the simple reality of gerrymandering, voter registrations and campaign financing in New Mexico,” Dow said.

Republicans posted victories in statewide races before 2018, however, with Susana Martinez winning two terms as governor and Aubrey Dunn being elected state land commissioner in 2014.

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