One reason I wanted to do the race for Judge for the 346th District (Paty Baca vs Ruben Nunez) was because it was an open seat race in a primary between two unknowns, with zero media coverage, and no issues to argue about. So this really comes down to who spent their campaign resources most wisely, which is what this blog is all about. The more voters know who the candidates are before the campaigning begins, the less influence consultants and expenditures have on the election results. So this is the perfect race to analyze what is the best way to appropriate your campaign budget, as the other variables that affect election results were almost nonexistent in this race.
Contributions and Expenditures (up to 8 day before report)
Nunez raised $46,400 and spent $66,161. Baca raised $14,746 and spent $58,675. Investing your own money to run for office is always a gamble. But for many candidates, especially in El Paso, most candidates are left with no choice. Baca invested nearly $44k of her own money, and it paid off. Nunez put in $20k of his own cash. Nunez also outraised and outspent Baca, which almost always means victory. Plus Nunez had the advantage of Some Name ID as his name was on the ballot in another El Paso County judicial race just two years ago in the 2018 Democratic Primary. This was Baca’s first time running for any office, and she won big, 57%-43%. So what happened? Let’s take a look.
Nunez outspent Baca in this category $6,265 to $2,500. Nunez hired Sun Circle Strategies (Eddie Holguin and Lily Limon) and Baca hired Mike Apodaca. Mike Apodaca outclasses Sun Circle when it comes to campaign strategy, but Apodaca’s time was spread amongst 5 campaigns. I’ve been there. So trust me, it makes a big difference on the effectiveness that you can have when having to consult/manage multiple campaigns. So it’s understandable that a guy as talented as Apodaca would have two big losses this election season (in what were very winnable races). This should have been loss number three for Apodaca, but Sun Circle dropped the ball. Sun Circle were working on three campaigns themselves (including Holguin’s wife. Guess which candidate got the most attention), but Holguin and Limon are also two capable managers. Apodaca was a one man show. When a consultant is getting paid more than the opposing consultant, has a managing partner to help, has more campaign resources, and has the Name ID candidate: There are no excuses to lose this bad.
Nunez edged out Baca $37,106 to $32,861. For a county wide race, that’s about 3 mailers, depending on how big the targets. It’s likely that Nunez sent 3-4 mailers and Baca sent 2-3. While Mail is in my Top 3 most important expenditures, it should be remembered that its individual impact is much less than blockwalking and also less than phone calls and text messages. But it’s important to do because it’s the most effective way to reach your entire target all at once. When it comes to political races Mail still beats TV, Radio and Social Media. The reason being is the ability to target voters so precisely. So this was a very good expenditure by Nunez, but Baca stayed right behind him. Mail isn’t a hard thing to do, it’s just expensive. But do you know what is extremely hard to pull off?
If you read my posts on the CCC#4 and HD76 races, then you probably were able to guess where Nunez went wrong. There is absolutely nothing more effective than getting a person to vote for you than by knocking on their door and having a conversation with them. But it’s hard work and time consuming. If you’re going to be able to make a significant impact at the doors, you have to hire several people to do it. And you need someone that can manage your blockwalking program. Sun Circle took the easy way out and decided to forgo blockwalking. Huge huge mistake. The money was there to have a monster blockwalking program, but that would have been too much work. Nunez spent $0 on blockwalking. Nunez didn’t even provide an opportunity for himself or volunteers to hit doors, as he only spent $186 dollars on printed campaign material. Probably just to hand out at Democratic Club events. Baca on the other hand spent $2,492 on printed material, and more importantly $6,589 on Paid Blockwalking. Nunez $0. Baca $6,589. There’s your answer folks. If you’re not blockwalking and your opponent is, you’re going to be in big trouble on Election Night.
$1109 dollars for Nunez, whereas Baca only spent $80 in this category. Another mistake by the Nunez campaign. Democratic Club leadership will try to goad every candidate into donating to their club, acting like it would be insane not to. But again and again election results show El Paso Democratic Clubs have zero influence on elections. And if you’re buying into other events for “exposure” (i.e. parades), you’re also wasting your time and money. Every Democratic Club member already has their mind made up on who they’re voting for on almost every race. Their endorsements don’t come with a check, and they don’t offer any real help to your campaign. The couple of votes you literally buy from Dem members don’t even come close to the number of votes you could mobilize by instead appropriating that time and money into blockwalking efforts.
Nunez spent $0, Baca Spent $600. You have to have a website. There are voters that do their own research by googling the candidates on the ballot. If your opponent has a website and you don’t, you lose every research vote. You have to have a website on the door hangers, on your social media page, etc. Also $600 is the right amount. Spending more than $1k on a candidate website for a local race is completely unnecessary.
Nunez spent $1,260. Baca spent $0. Social Media is important. Every campaign should have it, especially since it’s free. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to put in a few hundred dollars in sponsored social media ads to boost your exposure. But in a competitive race, there’s no way that social media will get it done alone. And oftentimes, it’s not even necessary. Nunez also spent $700 on a video, which I assume was the content that Nunez was boosting with that $1200. This actually isn’t the worst expenditure, though I probably would have cut the spending by half. This would have been a nice compliment to a blockwalking program. Imagine a voter seeing the video and then getting a knock on the door by the campaign, or vice versa, that’s a powerful combination that a voter can’t forget.
Signs and Billboards
Nunez spent $5,214 and Baca spent $3,043 on signs. Nunez spent $6,575 and Baca spent $7,975 on billboards. Both candidates spent way too much in this category. This is by far the worst expenditure for the Baca campaign, and would have been costly had Nunez not been so reckless himself in this category and/or if Nunez had a stellar blockwalking program. Nunez had the means to run a $15k field program which would have crushed Baca’s $6k program. In keeping with this scenario of a different Nunez campaign, reappropriating this expense to blockwalking would have meant she would have kept pace with Nunez. Had Baca instead used that $8k she spent on billboards on blockwalking (in addition to the $6k) she would have won by a larger margin, similar to the margin Vazquez had over Herrera.
It is possible that Baca didn’t have the manpower necessary to spend more than $6k on blockwalking, especially with the campaign manager/field director spread across five campaigns, and thus elected to put up billboards to keep pace with Nunez. If this was contribution money,that wouldn’t be a terrible decision, as the worst decision would be to leave the money unspent. But for a candidate that is mostly self financing, Baca would have been better off just saving that money.
Variables Not In Expenditures
Ms. Baca was kind enough to share with me that she herself was averaging 500 doors a week the last six weeks of the campaign, in addition to her paid canvassing program. It should be noted that in addition to being an Assistant DA she is also the Chief of the Domestic Violence Unit, and mom to two children under the age of 6. Paty Baca shows us there is no excuse not to blockwalk as a candidate. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find the time.
Nunez had the Name ID and the resources to be victorious on Election Night, but made the terrible decision to forgo blockwalking. The only candidates that win without blockwalking are the ones up against opponents who are also not blockwalking. But you’ll never find a no blockwalking campaign that beat a campaign with a strong field program.
It’s not enough to have a sizable budget to do all the easy/fun stuff. You have to put in the hard work. And that means knocking on doors and making phone calls. You also need leadership that knows how to target voters and create walk/phone lists, while also being able to recruit, train, and manage volunteers and paid canvassers. Baca had this leadership, and Nunez didn’t.
Once again the election results and expenditures show that signs and endorsements aren’t going to help your campaign. The only value they have is making candidates feel good, and it can be argued that a candidate feeling good is important to the success of a campaign. I get that. But don’t ever think for a second that signs or endorsements are mobilizing voters.