Ronchetti has to walk a fine line on abortion as election nears, expert says

By: - July 18, 2022 3:58 am

Mark Ronchetti, GOP candidate for New Mexico governor, pictured in a campaign video from early June in Dona Ana County. (Screengrab from Ronchetti Facebook page)

New Mexico’s Republican candidate for governor emphasized in public comments that the overturn of Roe v. Wade is a chance for “measured dialogue” on abortion and that his position — that abortion should be banned after 15 weeks, with exceptions — is “a very reasonable position that most in New Mexico will support.”

That Mark Ronchetti is pointing to debate and consensus on the polarizing topic shows the balance he’ll have to strike if he wants to convince Democrats to vote for him, said Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor and pollster. 

“He’s probably done some internal polling, and he kind of has an idea of where New Mexicans are at,” he said. “And he feels that he might not have much choice but to allow some wiggle room, to even move a little bit further to the left. But not too far.”

Sanchez said he hasn’t seen any polling of New Mexicans’ views on abortion since the Supreme Court ruling. But, generally, he said New Mexicans “are actually pretty progressive” when it comes to abortion rights, especially when it comes to cases of rape, incest or protecting the parent’s life.

A poll in mid-June by Public Policy Polling, commissioned by New Mexico Political Report, found that 55% of New Mexicans believed abortion should always be legal or be legal with some exceptions. Just 13% of the 642 New Mexicans surveyed said abortion should always be illegal, and 29% said it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or protecting the life of the person who’s pregnant.

That result is consistent with trends found by national pollsters in New Mexico in older surveys. The Pew Research Center, in its “Religious Landscape Study” conducted in 2007 and 2014, found that a consistent but a slim majority (51% in 2014) of New Mexicans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. 

Ronchetti has pushed back against recent attempts by Democrats to paint him as fully anti-abortion. The state Democratic party has recycled statements from his recent United States Senate run and primary race that they say show he is against abortion in all circumstances. 

For example, his old website from the primary race criticizes opponent Rebecca Dow for saying “we have to uphold Roe v. Wade” in a debate as an example of a “liberal” position she’s taken on issues.

And in the “abortion” section of his website for his Senate race, Ronchetti said life should be “protected at all stages” and then goes on to state that he opposes late-term abortions and that “unborn babies have souls, can feel emotions, and are every bit a human being.”

But Ronchetti spokesperson Enrique Knell said Ronchetti was simply calling out Dow’s hypocrisy in the first example and, in the second, said he was not referring to stages of pregnancy when he said “all stages.” 

“He says life should be protected at all stages, referring generally to ‘life,’” Knell told Source New Mexico. “‘Stages’ in this context does not mean ‘trimesters.’”

Knell also said Ronchetti has been consistent in opposing late-term abortions and has not changed his position. 

“Mark has always been clear and consistent on his position and the fact that he is pro-life. He has also consistently and adamantly stated that New Mexico should not be the nation’s late-term abortion capital, as it is right now,” Knell said. “As soon as the Supreme Court ruling was announced, Mark articulated a very clear position he will take as governor.”

Last week, Ronchetti was again forced to defend his abortion stance as moderate and in line with the values of New Mexicans after a fact-check by KOB. Pastor Steve Smothermon, in a recent sermon cited by the news outlet, told the congregation that Ronchetti had assured him that, if elected, he would push for a full ban on abortions in New Mexico.

“He said, ‘Listen: I just want to start with getting rid of partial-birth abortions in the whole state, …,” Smothermon said of his conversation with Ronchetti. “And he said, ‘But I can’t just go in and do it all 100% because we won’t ever get elected.’ He said ‘I just want to start.’ But his goal would be to end abortion in New Mexico. You say how do I know that? Because I talked to him for hours.” 

Smothermon starts talking about abortion during around 20 minutes in. His comments about Ronchetti come around 27 minutes in:

 

Ronchetti’s campaign, in a statement to the news outlet, denied that Ronchetti had told the pastor that he wanted to end abortions in New Mexico. 

Sanchez, the pollster, said it’s common for primary candidates across issues and elections to moderate their positions in the general election. When it comes to abortion, Ronchetti might be hoping to convince Democrats to vote for him by presenting a more moderate stance, especially if they have more pressing concerns, like the economy. Knell did not respond to a request for comment on whether the campaign thinks the economy will trump other issues this November. 

Sanchez also anticipates that abortion suddenly being on the ballot in New Mexico wiill motivate Democrats more than Republicans to vote in early November, but he’s waiting to see if that means Republicans like Ronchetti will soften their positions on the topic to blunt that enthusiasm. 

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.

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