SALT LAKE CITY — The ad war between Rep. Jim Matheson and Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love isn't just heating up. It's a raging inferno.
And it has left both 4th Congressional District candidates hot and bothered, while spinning voters into a land of confusion. Who's telling the truth? Who's lying?
This past week, Matheson, a six-term Democrat, demanded local TV stations pull a Republican spot that he says deceives voters. Republican challenger Love has complained about a Democratic political action committed (PAC) ad that exploits inaccurate information Matheson presented at a news conference.
The campaigns and their supporters are bombarding the airwaves with more than $3.5 million in television spots, and will continue the assault until Election Day. Political action committees have interjected themselves into the race with a slew of nasty ads that seem to distort more than they tell the truth.
"No one is more aware of negative attacks than me," Love said. "There has been no shortage of them aimed at me."
Matheson says the same thing: "I think I have been the target of more negative ads than my opponent," he said.
PACs, not the candidates' campaigns, generate most of the attack ads. Federal election law prohibits candidates from providing input or consent for those spots. But that doesn't stop them from defending the content.
As Love told Politico this week, "The ads running against Matheson are all truthful, or I'd be calling them out."
Matheson said it's hard to hold PACs accountable for their ads. He points to one that contends he has tried to stop domestic energy development, a claim he says his record shows is "absurd."
"It's just a statement that's completely out of bounds, and what do you do?" he said.
Besides the TV ads, PACs have produced radio spots and mailers for and against the candidates.
Outside groups in Matheson's corner include Patriot Majority USA, Center Forward, House Majority PAC, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Love has the National Republican Congressional Committee, Center for Individual Freedom and FreedomWorks, among others.
Love sent a memo to supporters last week telling them to expect the onslaught against her to continue.
"In the coming days and weeks you will hear Jim Matheson and his liberal friends say that I am going to push grandma off the cliff, that I am against health care, children, the military, and he may even claim I am going to outlaw green Jell-o and ice cream," she wrote.
Matheson called that a "specious" claim on Love's part. "But if she's trying to guess that's what I'm going to talk about in the next three weeks I'm glad she thinks that's what it is because that's not what we're going to be talking about."
The next 21 days will be crucial to the outcome of the race, which according to a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll in late September had Love leading 49 percent to 43 percent.
Matheson said his internal polling tells a different story. He said he thinks the Love's negative ads early on made it a closer race but the momentum she gained from that plateaued about three weeks ago.
Love said that momentum her campaign has gained from the recent poll numbers and fundraising have made it an "unstoppable force" heading for Nov. 6.
Truth Test: Take a look at the claims of both the Matheson and Love camps, and the political action committees funding advertisements on their behalf.