SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Mark Ronchetti has won the Republican primary for governor to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The former television meteorologist on Tuesday defeated four other candidates including state Rep. Rebecca Dow.
Ronchetti’s campaign emphasized concerns about crime, illegal immigration, high rates of unemployment and underperforming schools.
He pledged to deploy 150 state law enforcement personnel to the remote international border with Mexico to combat illegal migration and drug and human trafficking. The proposal echoes National Guard deployments by Republican governors in Arizona and Texas.
New Mexico has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors since the early 1980s. An incumbent governor last lost reelection in 1994.
The November election for New Mexico governor will be a test of Democratic resolve in the most Hispanic state in the nation — an oil-producing region with enduring currents of Catholicism and a strong culture of gun ownership.
The GOP in 2020 flipped a congressional district along the U.S. border with Mexico with the election of Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a firm defender of former President Donald Trump.
But Democrats control every statewide elected office, including the five-seat state Supreme Court, and an incumbent governor hasn’t lost election since 1994.
Since taking office in 2019, Lujan Grisham and the Democratic-led Legislature have enacted reforms to ensure access to abortion, expand government oversight of guns and expand police accountability by lifting immunity from prosecution for misconduct.
The Republican primary was marked by unfettered support for an oil industry anchored in the Permian Basin of southeastern New Mexico.
The incumbent governor has walked a fine line on the environment with climate change initiatives that rein in methane pollution from oilfield infrastructure, phase out coal-fired power plants and mandate new renewable energy investments without restricting oil production. New Mexico surpassed North Dakota in 2021 to become the nation’s No. 2 oil producer behind Texas.
Lujan Grisham has harnessed a surge in state government income to underwrite teacher raises, offer free college education to in-state students, expand preschool and bolster Medicaid coverage across a state with high rates of poverty.
In response to inflation, the state is sending out staggered payments of up to $1,500 per household between June and August.
New Mexico’s most recent Republican governor was Susana Martinez, an El Paso native with family ties in Mexico who served as a district attorney before winning an open race to succeed termed-out Gov. Bill Richardson.
Separately, Democratic voters were deciding on a nominee for the top law enforcement post as Attorney General Hector Balderas terms out of office. Albuquerque-based District Attorney Raúl Torrez was competing against State Auditor Brian Colón for the nomination. The winner will compete against Republican attorney and U.S. Marine veteran Jeremy Michael Gay of Gallup.
First-term congresswomen were seeking reelection to New Mexico’s three congressional districts, without primary challengers.
In the 2nd District of southern New Mexico, Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez won the Democratic nomination to challenge Herrell. He defeated rural physician Darshan Patel.
In the 1st District which includes most of Albuquerque and rural communities to the south, the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury was being sought by shooting range owner Louie Sanchez and former police detective Michelle Garcia Holmes.
In Tuesday’s vote, new same-day registration provisions allowed unaffiliated voters to participate if they registered with a major party — even briefly.
About 100,000 ballots were cast on Election Day as of 5 p.m., with Republicans and Democrats voting in similar numbers.
About 226,000 ballots were cast overall, including absentee and early in-person voting. Turnout trailed the final tally for the 2018 midterm primary, when about 262,000 ballots were cast amid a competitive Democratic race for governor.