SALEM — Traditionally, this should be a time for Cheri Helt and Nathan Boddie to relax. In reality, it’s not.

Both are running for the 54th House District seat that Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, is giving up to run for governor. When the filing deadline to run for office closed, Boddie was the only Democratic candidate, and Helt the only Republican. They could coast through the May 15 primary without a worry.

Instead, they’ve jump-started the Nov. 6 general election, setting up campaign infrastructure, such as websites, social media accounts, producing ads, gathering endorsements and raising funds.

Much of the early debate has been online — and positive — on issues such as government transparency and education.

“Right now, I am just trying to get out my message about what is important,” said Helt, a member of the Bend-La Pine School Board. “I’m talking about education. Oregon is 48th in high school graduation rates. That’s not acceptable. I want to change that.”

Boddie, a Bend city councilor, could not be reached for comment. But his campaign website focuses on his bringing change to Salem.

“It’s clear we need bolder leadership and smarter solutions in the Legislature, not politics as usual and business behind closed doors,” Boddie says on the website.

The early start is to be expected in an open district seat where, history indicates, spending by the two candidates could top $1.5 million.

At stake may be a Democratic supermajority in the House that would allow spending and tax bills to be approved without Republican help. Democrats are just one vote shy of a supermajority in the House.

The 54th House District voter registration has Democrats outnumbering Republicans. But it elected Buehler twice and Republican Jason Conger before him.

That’s likely testimony to the unaffiliated vote, which makes up roughly a third of the electorate. Republican leaders, including Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, who has run statewide campaigns for candidates and initiatives, have said they believe Bend voters are socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

Helt says she plans to reach out to “every voter” regardless of registration. “I am not polarizing,” Helt said. “I work across the aisle. I’ve done that on the school board. I’ve done that in lobbying on issues important to me.”

Boddie’s website says he wants a “healthy, liveable, prosperous Bend for all.”

It’s very early, but Helt has raised nearly three times as much money as Boddie.

According to state campaign finance records, Helt has taken in just under $110,000, has spent just under $77,000, and has about $33,000 cash on hand. Helt’s largest expenditure has been $27,000 with Strategic Media Services of Arlington, Virginia, for broadcast advertising purchases. The company’s website says it was “founded in 1996 to serve the needs of clients with politically-charged issues.”

Helt spent $18,000 with GS Strategy Group, a Boise, Idaho, consulting firm whose key executives have worked on the Republican political campaigns of Sen. John McCain, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and Oregon U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith.

Helt has also spent $10,000 with FP1 Strategies of Washington, D.C., which is also working on Buehler’s gubernatorial campaign. FP1’s other efforts include the winning campaigns of U.S. Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, as well as the recent GOP victories in special elections for Congress in Kansas, Montana and Georgia.

Helt’s first television ad is already running on stations serving Bend.

State records show Boddie has raised just over $40,000 since he announced his candidacy last fall. He’s spent about $5,000 and has about $35,000 cash on hand. His largest expenditure is $3,000 with NPG of Oregon, the subsidiary of Missouri-based News-Press & Gazette Co., which owns television stations KTVZ-21 and two other television stations in Bend.

If history is any guide, both will have to raise a lot more money. Buehler raised $1 million in his successful 2016 re-election bid. Buehler was able to start raising money for his re-election after his November 2014 election to the House — he raised just over $257,000 in 2015. Buehler compiled some of his larger campaign contributions from business, real estate and medical industry groups.

The Democratic challenger that year, Gena Goodman-Campbell, raised $400,000. Out of nearly 38,000 votes cast, Buehler won the race with 52 percent of the vote to Goodman-Campbell’s 48 percent. Goodman-Campbell received almost $83,000 from the state Democratic Party, most of it in the last three weeks of the campaign. She also received $93,000 from Future PAC House Builders, a political action campaign fund for Democrats running for the state House.

Out of nearly 38,000 votes cast, Buehler won the race with 52 percent of the vote to Goodman-Campbell’s 48 percent.

Both parties are expected to invest even more heavily in 2018 to keep — or win — a now open seat that is a linchpin in who controls Salem.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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