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Democratic candidates for governor crank up spending

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – With just three weeks left until New Mexico’s 2018 primary election, the three Democrats running for governor are spending big bucks on TV ads and other campaign expenditures in hopes of winning over undecided party voters.

That could represent an advantage for U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican running for governor, who hasn’t had to draw down his campaign war chest for a primary election showdown.

In reports filed Monday with the Secretary of State’s Office, the three Democrats seeking the party’s nomination – Michelle Lujan Grisham, Joseph Cervantes and Jeff Apodaca – each reported spending big on campaign ads during a roughly five-week period that ended May 7.

And they still have plenty of cash left to air more ads in the coming weeks.

Lujan Grisham, who is giving up her Albuquerque-area congressional seat to run for governor, reported having spent $638,295 during the reporting period. Of that amount, nearly $260,000 was spent on TV and radio ads, with an additional $70,000 or so spent on video production.

She reported raising nearly $412,000 during the same period – including hefty contributions from labor unions and an Albuquerque-based medical cannabis dispensary – and still has nearly $1.6 million in her campaign account.

Cervantes, a state senator from Las Cruces, has even more in his war chest – roughly $1.65 million – after lending an additional $500,000 to his campaign. In all, he has now made more than $2 million in personal loans to his campaign to become the first sitting legislator elected governor since 1974.

He reported spending $195,000 on airing and producing campaign ads, which amounted to roughly two-thirds of his total campaign spending.

Cervantes, who comes from a prominent farming family, recently told the Journal he plans to spend the personal money he puts toward his campaign, saying, “We’re absolutely putting it to use – there’s no other point to having it.”

Apodaca, a former media executive from Albuquerque, is trailing behind his Democratic rivals when it comes to cash on hand entering the primary election homestretch.

He reported spending more than $83,000 on radio and TV ads during the reporting period, and roughly $177,000 in total. Apodaca reported raising more than $117,000 and has roughly $263,000 in his campaign account.

New Mexico will have a new governor in January, as two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in office. The open race has attracted high-profile candidates, and spending from national groups is likely to increase before the November general election, political observers have predicted.

In an interview last month, Lujan Grisham acknowledged the challenges posed by a contested primary race but insisted her campaign would be prepared.

“It means candidates have to have a two-part strategy,” she told the Journal. “If you’re not ready for that general (election), you’re in trouble.”

For his part, Pearce reported spending roughly $273,000 – he’s also started airing TV ads in recent weeks – and receiving $118,653 in contributions. He now has more than $1.9 million in his war chest.

Other races

In other races for statewide office:

• State Sen. George Muñoz has a cash advantage in the Democratic race for land commissioner, thanks in part to having lent about $200,000 to his campaign. He has about $211,000 cash on hand.

Garrett VeneKlasen, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, raised the most money over the past month – about $49,000 in outside contributions this period – and has about $73,000 cash heading into the final weeks.

State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard has about $31,000 cash on hand.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will face Republican Patrick Lyons, who has about $82,000 cash, and Libertarian Michael Lucero, who has $5,000.

• State Rep. Bill McCamley spent about $120,000 on television ads in his bid for state auditor and now has about $17,000 cash left. His Democratic primary opponent, Brian Colón, an Albuquerque lawyer, hadn’t filed a report as of late Monday.

Republican Wayne Johnson, who was appointed state auditor last year, has about $51,000 cash on hand.

Early voting

Absentee voting has already started for the June 5 primary election, and early in-person voting will begin on Saturday at designated polling places statewide.

New Mexico’s closed primary system is essentially a nominating process run by county clerks, as only voters affiliated with a major political party – Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians – can participate in the primary election.

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