Close NM House contest attracts big money

Two of this year’s top campaign contribution recipients are facing each other in the race for House District 15.

Rep. Emily Kane and challenger Sarah Maestas Barnes are two of just four House candidates who have raised more than $130,000 ahead of the Nov. 4 election, records show.

State Republicans are focusing on the district as they hope to secure a Republican majority in the NM House for the first time since the 1960s. Democrats hope to keep control of this district for the seventh year in a row.

As of Oct. 6, Kane and Maestas Barnes both had raised more than $130,000. Kane ranked second overall with $157,345 in contributions and Maestas Barnes ranked fourth with $131,271, reports show.

Albuquerque political consultant Brian Morris, who does political consulting for Democratic campaigns, said with a month left to go before election day, there could be more money for each to spend.

“I would foresee both of them raising a lot more,” he said.

The district, encompassing Los Ranchos de Albuquerque as well as the area north of Paseo Del Norte, has historically been split almost 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. In the last election, Kane beat Republican Christopher Saucedo by a 2.4 percentage point margin, a difference of 314 votes.

In July, two Republican groups, GOPAC and the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC), came out in support Maestas Barnes, calling this contest one of the best opportunities in the country to help gain a state Republican majority.

The “super PAC” GOPAC has donated $5,200 to Maestas Barnes’s campaign during this election. The RLCC named Maestas Barnes on the national list of “14 in ‘14 Races to Watch.”

Both candidates have been spending their campaign funds on political signs, mailers and canvassing.

“I need to directly connect with the voters,” Kane said. “I prefer having signs in people’s yards over generic corner signs.”

How the candidates spend their remaining campaign cash may help decide the race.

Though early and absentee voting are already underway, Morris said the swing voters campaigns are targeting often wait until the last week of early voting to decide which candidate to cast their vote for.

UNM political science professor Tim Krebs said with this much funding, candidates will be sending targeted direct mail to people in the district.

“Defeating incumbents is difficult,” Krebs said. “Challengers need to make the case against the incumbent.”

Each candidate has spent more than $20,000 on mail since September. The candidates’ mail will be targeted towards independent voters and people weakly identified with their party, Krebs said. About 20 percent of New Mexico voters declined to state a party affiliation and according to Pew Research, tend to be younger. Of the 20,600 registered voters in the district, about 13 percent are age 18 to 25.

State Sen. Bill O’Neil, who represented the district in 2008, said he has noticed the competitiveness of the race.

“It’ll be close,” he said. “I’ve gotten eight pieces of mail in the last two weeks. That lets you know how badly each one wants this seat.”

In the 2012 election, Kane raised more than $126,000, the sixth highest of candidates that year. In that race, she raised and spent the most money after Oct. 1, buying an ad in the Albuquerque Journal and focusing on canvassing.