SALT LAKE CITY — Extraordinary amounts of outside money for television attack ads are pouring into the heated battle for Utah's 4th Congressional District seat.
Groups backing Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson and Republican Mia Love have taken to the airwaves in earnest to sway voters in what political observers expect to be a tight race on Election Day. Political action committees on both sides jumped headlong into the fray, spending nearly $1 million on television ads this month alone.
Longtime advertising executive and political strategist Tom Love said PACs have already bought up $3.6 million of air time in Utah. And, he said, they're willing to pay more than the going rate to tie up that time. The candidates also are running their own spots.
"The PAC spending is clearly unprecedented. It's almost as if we're a swing state. Of course we're not, but in this race we are," he said.
The Matheson-Love matchup is one of most closely watched congressional races in the country for national Democrats and Republicans.
Center Forward, a self-described centrist organization, has spent $354,000 on ads targeting Love this month, while the House Majority PAC, which aims to get Democrats elected to Congress, has dropped another $202,500, according to Federal Election Commission financial disclosure reports.
On the other side, the Virginia-based Center for Individual Freedom has spent $258,000 and the National Republican Congressional Committee another $266,800 for ads this month slamming Matheson.
Tom Love (no relation to Mia Love) said television spots have already become so ubiquitous that they run the risk of turning voters off.
"A Jim Matheson ad or a Mia Love ad appears every single break on every single TV station and often two ads in a break," he said. "It's unbearable."
But the onslaught isn't likely to let up between now and Nov. 6.
"There's about $2 million in attack ads coming up against us so we're going to make sure we do everything we can to stay on TV," said Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs.
"I pose a little bit of a problem for Barack Obama and his liberal agenda, so there's a lot of money coming into this campaign. There are a lot of liberal outside groups that do not want to see me in Washington."
Matheson said he believes candidates should be communicating more with people than third party groups are.
"The challenge is to break through all that noise. I think campaigns ought to be a discussion between candidates and voters. Sometimes it's confusing when you have lots of people filling that echo chamber," he said.
Federal election law prohibits candidates from coordinating the content or timing of PAC ads, many of which take on a nastier tone than the spots that campaigns in Utah produce.
"We're not as nasty. We're not as mean. We don't like to call our candidates bad things and bad names and attack their character. That does not play well in Utah," said Tom Love, whose firm is running Ben McAdams' bid for Salt Lake County mayor.
Matheson said that's always a challenge to deal with.
"There are organizations that may be trying to help you and what they put on the air might not be consistent with what you'd like to be putting on the air," he said.
Mia Love said, "Obviously we can't control what comes in from the outside."
So far, the spots going after Mia Love and Matheson haven't become too aggressive for the Salt Lake market, Tom Love said. But he expects the tenor to change as the election approaches and candidates get more desperate.
"It's high stakes poker," he said, "and people play to win."
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