Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is seeking a second term in Tuesday’s election on promises to defend access to abortion and sustain social spending as Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti urges new approaches to crime and the economy.
New Mexico voters are confronting stark choices as they fill a long list of statewide elected positions for the first time since the coronavirus overwhelmed rural hospitals and sent shockwaves through the economy, public schools and the criminal justice system.
The winning candidate for governor in a heavily Hispanic and Native American state will oversee a windfall in state government income from a thriving oil industry and confront anxiety about inflation, asylum seekers at the border and a record-setting spate of homicides in Albuquerque.
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The race also has focused on access to abortion procedures in New Mexico, which has few restrictions and provides services to women from neighboring Texas and other states with abortion bans.
More than 100,000 ballots were cast on Election Day by noon, boosting overall participation to nearly 550,000 since the start of early and absentee voting four weeks ago, according to the New Mexico secretary of state’s office.
Lujan Grisham says she will defend abortion access with public spending on clinics and provide a safe haven for abortion doctors, while Ronchetti supports a ban after 14 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions and has proposed letting voters decide on any restrictions through a statewide referendum.
Ronchetti, a former television meteorologist who made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 2020, has railed against recent increases in state government spending and a “catch-and-release” system of bail and parole amid high violent crimes rates.
He has promised to roll back bail reforms, restore police-agency immunity from civil rights lawsuits and appoint hard-handed judges. At the border, he would deploy troops and police in solidarity with efforts from Republican governors in Arizona and Texas.
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Bill Mueller, a 78-year-old economist and retired state worker, said he voted largely based on dissatisfaction with inflation and the economy.
“Any change would be better,” said Mueller, casting his ballot at an elementary school in Tesuque.
In the state capital of Santa Fe on Tuesday, 33-year-old therapist Rhiannon Duke said she voted with new sense of gratitude, amid false claims and conspiracy theories about how ballots are cast and counted across the U.S.
“I feel kind of bewildered that people don’t trust in this system,” she said.
During the pandemic, Lujan Grisham implemented aggressive public health restrictions on businesses and a roughly year-long suspension of classroom learning, promoting COVID-19 vaccinations with special attention to Native American communities.
Ronchetti has highlighted the dismal outcomes for students and small businesses. He wants to remedy economic hardships by paying out annual individual rebates linked to the state’s oilfield income, seeking cuts to income tax rates for middle-income earners and offering state-sponsored tutoring for early elementary school students.
Lujan Grisham has touting her political negotiating skills in providing teacher pay raises, tax cuts on sales and Social Security benefits along with summer rebates of up to $1,500 per household. She has signed a series of gun-control measures, legalized medically assisted suicide and instituted rules aimed at curbing oilfield pollution.
Ronchetti would put Republicans back in the driver’s seat on many oilfield regulations in the nation’s No. 2 state for petroleum production, behind Texas.
The next governor also will guide efforts to modernize the electrical grid in an era of climate change by appointing state utility regulators, positions previously filled by election.
Ronchetti was joined in New Mexico on the campaign trail by prominent Republicans including Vice President Mike Pence and GOP Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia.
Lujan Grisham has drawn support from abortion-rights groups, teachers’ union leaders and recent visits from U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
New Mexico has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors since the early 1980s. An incumbent governor last lost reelection in 1994.
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A win by Ronchetti would end a succession of three Hispanic governors, staring with Democrat Bill Richardson, then Republican Susana Martinez and currently Lujan Grisham.