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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Jim Matheson

SALT LAKE CITY — The race between Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Republican challenger Morgan Philpot has gotten a bit nastier, thanks to a new campaign ad that started running on television this week.

Matheson spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend said the ad "calls attention to Morgan Philpot's record." But Philpot responded in a news conference Monday that Matheson is "showing his true colors, namely that he will do anything to get re-elected."

The Matheson ad claims Philpot missed 233 votes while a member of the Utah House of Representatives, where he served from 2000 to 2004. It also claims Philpot kept his state-paid health care after he quit the Legislature and moved to Michigan to go to law school. Third, the ad says, Philpot "failed to pay his Utah taxes until he was hit with a tax lien."

Philpot acknowledged he didn't know how many votes he had missed in his four years in the House; and that he had missed paying $165.28 in state taxes from 2002. But he said he paid the bill a month after he received notice, in Michigan, of the "oversight."

Philpot denies keeping the state health insurance. Health insurance records are not public, but a House staff member says Philpot would not have been able to continue on the state plan without paying COBRA. Legislators are eligible for on-going health insurance coverage after 10 years of service.

"The bottom line is my opponent has resorted to the tactics of deception and avoidance because he is so wrong on the issues that are important to Utahns," Philpot said in a statement.

But Matheson said the ad is important to run, because "voters need to know something about the 2 candidates. They need to know the facts."

As a challenger, Philpot has been on the attack for weeks. And he stands by his ad that accuses Matheson of sponsoring and passing just two bills in his 10 years in Congress.

But on October 15, Matheson's lawyers sent a letter to KSL Newsradio, demanding it stop running the radio version of the ads because the claim is not accurate.

"Congressman Matheson has sponsored and passed many more than two bills," the letter statess.

A search of congressional records shows Matheson is currently sponsoring at least 21 bills in the U.S. House.

"People who know, know my record, and it speaks for itself," Matheson said.

Matheson also denies "going negative" in the final week of the campaign because he's concerned about Philpot closing in on him. The latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll had Matheson with a 26-point lead over Philpot.

"I'm not at all worried," Matheson said.

Political science professor and pollster Dan Jones says many campaigns go on the attack in the final days, if they perceive a threat.

"We're in the field (polling) for KSL and the Deseret News right now, so we'll know this week if there's anything to that in this race," Jones said.