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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham turned away a spirited challenge from Republican Mark Ronchetti to win reelection to a second term as governor, beating back attacks focused on crime, education and the state’s economy.

In a victory speech at an Albuquerque hotel ballroom, the Democratic governor said New Mexico voters had rejected a GOP-led political movement fueled by fear and division.

“The weather forecast for New Mexico is four more years of progress – four more years of rebuilding our beloved state,” Lujan Grisham said in a thinly-veiled reference to Ronchetti, a former KRQE-TV meteorologist.

Amid chants of “four more years” and with her husband, brother and adult daughters alongside her, she also vowed to work to reduce poverty rates, improve public schools and expand child care programs, saying, “You guys know me, I’m relentless.”

The contest between Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti was a combative one, especially in its final stages, with the GOP candidate blasting the governor for being out of touch with New Mexicans’ daily struggles with high crime rates and rising costs.

Lujan Grisham, for her part, criticized Ronchetti for lacking the policy chops to handle complex issues and for seeking to restrict New Mexicans’ access to abortion services.

This year’s contest was much closer than four years ago, when Lujan Grisham easily beat Republican Steve Pearce to win election as governor.

According to unofficial results, Lujan Grisham held a six-point lead over Ronchetti with more than 660,000 votes cast in the race. Libertarian candidate Karen Bedonie trailed far behind the two leading candidates with about 2% of the votes.

Ronchetti, joined by his wife and eldest daughter, said in a speech to supporters shortly after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday that he was unlikely to win the race. He called Lujan Grisham later in the evening to acknowledge her victory, a campaign spokesman for the governor said.

“The reality is, for our campaign, it will likely come to an end tonight, without winning,” Ronchetti said, citing a disconnect between rural and urban New Mexico to a crowd mixed with suits and ties and cowboy hats and baseball caps.

He urged supporters not to give up on New Mexico, saying, “If the state of New Mexico draws closer to God, brighter days are ahead.”

Mark Ronchetti hugs supporter Charlene Knipfing after election results showed him trailing Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico’s race for governor. Ronchetti said in a speech Tuesday that rural parts of New Mexico feel ignored by the state’s urban population centers. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

Record spending

This year’s race was one of the most expensive races in New Mexico history, as Lujan Grisham reported last week having raised $12.5 million for her reelection bid.

Ronchetti, for his part, raised nearly $9.3 million since announcing his campaign in October 2021.

Both candidates have used that money to launch a steady barrage of TV ads aimed at winning over New Mexico’s roughly 1.3 million voters, while also crisscrossing the state in the final sprint to Election Day.

Outside groups have also spent big amounts on this year’s race for governor, with one political committee linked to the Democratic Governors Association having spent nearly $11.3 million over the past four months alone.

On the other side, a political committee affiliated with the Republican Governors Association spent more than $6.6 million – primarily on TV ads targeting the governor on crime and integrity issues.

Amid the barrage of GOP attack ads, Lujan Grisham’s campaign was bolstered in the final sprint to Election Day with visits from both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who touted her as a key ally to the Biden administration.

The governor said during her victory speech she received a congratulatory phone call Tuesday night from Biden, whose administration had vetted Lujan Grisham as a possible Cabinet appointee after he was elected president in 2020.

Meanwhile, Ronchetti got a helping hand on the campaign trail from three Republican governors – Ron DeSantis of Florida, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, and Doug Ducey of Arizona – who traveled to New Mexico to stump for the GOP nominee.

‘A hell of a lot’

Lujan Grisham’s victory makes her the fourth consecutive New Mexico governor to win reelection.

She joins former governors Gary Johnson, Bill Richardson and Susana Martinez in winning reelection to second terms, though each of those ex-governors faced an increase in legislative resistance and declining approval numbers during their second terms.

But Lujan Grisham will enter her second term in January with something those former governors did not have – an unprecedented revenue windfall fueled by increasing oil production in southeast New Mexico.

In her speech Tuesday night, Lujan Grisham, who enjoyed strong support among female voters and Hispanics in a recent Journal Poll, said her administration would continue to invest in clean-energy jobs and climate-focused initiatives.

She also acknowledged the difficulty of the last four years, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires that burned huge swaths of New Mexico this year.

“It’s been a hard four years,” Lujan Grisham said. “New Mexicans and New Mexico have been through a hell of a lot.”

However, the governor thanked voters for not choosing a new direction in leadership, saying New Mexico had rejected “Trumpism” and imported politics.

“It would be really easy to let the worst instincts take over,” Lujan Grisham said. “It has happened in America, and frankly, it has happened all around the world. But not in New Mexico, not today.”

Journal staff writers Matt Reisen and Olivier Uyttebrouck contributed to this report.