In this district in the northeastern corner of the state, winning candidates often spend less than $20,000 to get elected. Contributions for the 2004 State Senate race between Sen. Clinton Harden and the Democratic challenger, Robert Frost, are typical. Campaign finance reports filed to date with the Secretary of State and available online show Harden has raised $12,220 from 24 donors. Frost’s contributions total $13,905 with 25 donors.
When those figures are compared to Senate races in urban areas of New Mexico or in neighboring Texas districts where spending reaches the $200,000 range, they are low, but raising the campaign money in this district isn’t easy.
“I’ve put 10,000 miles on my car in the last thirty days,” said Frost. “The district is geographically so huge. Clovis, Tucumcari, and Raton are the only concentrated areas of population,” said Harden.
District 7 runs north along the New Mexico’s eastern side from Clovis to the Colorado border. The L-shaped district proceeds from the Texas border west 200 miles, covering Colfax, Curry, Harding, Quay, San Miguel, and Union counties. According to the 2000 census, this district is home to 40,966 people, just short of the ideal 43,311 for New Mexico’s 42 districts. Census data shows per capita income ranges from $24,911 in Union County to $18,049 in Quay.
“In the small towns from north Clovis to Clayton,” Frost said, “people don’t have money to donate to campaigns.”
In addition, the district bypasses the towns of Las Vegas and Taos leaving mostly economically depressed small communities. Grass stands knee high throughout much of the area but there are no cattle. The drought forced ranchers to sell their livestock before the summer rains produced abundant grass.
Finding contributors for an unknown candidate is a problem Frost faces. “Nobody wants to invest in a person who hasn’t run before,” he said. So for now, the Frost family is financing the campaign. “My family and I made a commitment to use our own money,” Frost said. Online campaign reports show Frost’s wife, Jane, has donated $8,363 or the bulk of the money raised so far. Senator Harden, as the incumbent, enjoys the advantage in fund raising. His largest contributors are two Raton construction companies, Hayden Construction and Rocky Mountain Coring, who have contributed $2,000 each.
The New Mexico Horsemen’s Association contributed a $1,000 through its political action committee to Harden’s race. Frost said he has recently received a donation from the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association.
A racetrack and casino are being considered as ways to raise revenue in District 7. In April, both Harden and Frost attended a meeting in Tucumcari where Gov. Bill Richardson recommended bringing a racetrack and casino to the city. “You get mixed signals from the executive,” said Harden, “he clearly floated the idea of a casino, but the (Albuquerque) Journal today quotes him as saying New Mexico has enough casinos.”
Harden said the amount of money needed to campaign isn’t the real issue; it is the amount of money needed to serve.
“Serving this district means you have to get behind the windshield,” he said, ”and travel to a town meeting in Raton, Tucumcari or Clayton is not reimbursed.” New Mexico legislators receive a per diem of $138 for sessions and are reimbursed for traveling to interim committee meetings but other than that they receive no reimbursement for expenses. Nor does the a senator’s have a staff.
“People tell me to have my staff answer emails, but my staff is my wife,” said Harden.