Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Libertarian Karen Bedonie has raised and spent just a fraction of what her rivals have in the race for governor.
But she has them beat in one category – spending on travel, lodging and meals, according to campaign finance reports.
Over the last two months, her campaign has recorded expenses in Texas, Colorado and nearly every corner of New Mexico. She has bought gas in Raton, eaten in Hobbs and stayed the night in Clayton, campaign finance documents say.
“I’ve been to every dot on the map,” Bedonie said in an interview.
The choice to spend on travel is purposeful, she said, a strategy to connect with voters in person rather than through campaign commercials. It’s the way, she said, campaigning ought to be done.
Altogether, Bedonie has doled out almost $56,000 this election cycle on candidate travel, lodging and meals – an amount that makes up 49% of her entire campaign spending.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Mark Ronchetti, by contrast, have dedicated less than 1% of their campaign spending to travel, lodging and meals.
Lujan Grisham has spent $50,000 in that category and Ronchetti just under $36,000, according to totals posted on the secretary of state’s campaign finance website.
Bedonie, a business owner from Navajo, a small community near the Arizona state line on the Navajo Nation, said she has put 180,000 miles on her Mitsubishi Outlander since launching her campaign about 18 months ago.
She began as a Republican but switched to Libertarian earlier this year, saying she was at odds with the Republican Party’s leadership.
Bedonie hasn’t attracted as much media attention as her better-funded rivals – either by paying for it or seeking it out. Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti have invited reporters to numerous news conferences and campaign events.
And they’ve spent heavily on ads.
Television airtime and production make up the biggest category of spending for Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti this cycle, according to the campaign finance website.
The governor’s reelection campaign has spent $3.1 million and Ronchetti $2.5 million on TV ads.
Bedonie has spent just $4,300 – on radio.
Television ads, she said, are artificial and cannot match the power of in-person connections.
“They’re wasting people’s money,” Bedonie said. “It’s an old way of doing things. I literally threw out the political handbook and told them I’m going to do it my way.”
But the other candidates appear far better known.
A recent Journal Poll of likely voters put Bedonie’s support at 5%, well behind Lujan Grisham at 47% and Ronchetti at 40%, according to the telephone survey by Research & Polling Inc. last month.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
But Bedonie said she believes she can win the race by drawing support from a cross-section of Democrats, Republicans and independents. She disputes the idea that she disproportionately draws from the same voter base as Ronchetti.
She has broader support, she said, and left the Republican Party “to preserve my right to run as an American and not be manipulated by the party system.”
In the Journal Poll, Bedonie drew her highest share of support – about 14% – from the group of voters who are independent, Libertarian or registered with a minor party.
On the road, she said, she meets with voters, business owners and “movers and shakers” throughout the state at restaurants, often traveling with her daughters – who are young adults – or her husband, a plumber.
The meals aren’t necessarily fancy. Her campaign lists expenses at McDonald’s, Sonic and Wendy’s.
But there are all kinds of restaurants and expenses listed in her reports: $53 at Mustang Diner in Mountainair, $46 at the Hong Kong Buffet in Albuquerque, $79 at Fratelli’s Bistro in Gallup.
“This practice to literally get out there and meet people is how it should be,” Bedonie said.
Candidate spending on meals and lodging is generally considered appropriate under New Mexico campaign finance laws, which allow candidates to spend political contributions on campaign-related expenditures. Clothing, massages and medical treatment are examples of impermissible campaign expenditures.
Bedonie’s travel is largely in state, though she has had some expenses in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; Durango, Colorado; and Window Rock, Arizona, capital of the Navajo Nation.