SALT LAKE CITY — The first TV commercial in the state's most competitive congressional race features the family of Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, the Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Mia Love's bid for a third term.
"As mayor, Dad brings people together," one of McAdams' four children says during the 30-second spot that began airing last week, while his wife, Julie, says he "would be a breath of fresh air in Washington."
Also touted are McAdams' efforts to help the homeless, build parks and trails, and improve schools. His children poke a little fun at their father, with son James complaining "we always lose" the Pinewood Derby car race despite his help.
More than $100,000 in airtime has been purchased on the four major TV stations in Utah at least through next weekend, according to records filed with the Federal Communications Commission.
The race for the 4th Congressional District seat first won by Love in 2014 is labeled a toss-up by RealClear Politics. A UtahPolicy.com poll in June gave Love a slight lead, but within the margin of error, making the race too close to call.
The congresswoman's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, had no comment about McAdams' TV commercial and said he was not going to say "anything about our ad schedule or content."
Andrew Roberts, McAdams' campaign manager, said it is important to be first on the air.
He said the campaign's focus is on "getting Ben out in front of voters and making sure that they know who he is before the onslaught of negative advertising from Love and her allies comes. … They promised it."
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said McAdams is attempting to "define himself positively before his opponent tries to define him in a more negative way."
Love has already gone after McAdams for his votes on abortion-related legislation as a state lawmaker and is likely to continue painting him as someone "whose family values aren't as solid as he would like us to believe," Karpowitz said.
"She has signaled that she wants to attack him on the issue of abortion, so it's notable the first commercial is all about his family," the political science professor said, a focus that suggests McAdams would be a comfortable fit with Utah voters.
That may be the same reason that the word Democrat doesn't come up in the commercial, he said. The last Democrat from Utah to serve in Congress, former Rep. Jim Matheson, chose not to run again in 2014 after beating Love two years earlier.
Roberts said he expects to continue running ads on TV and other platforms through Election Day on Nov. 6.
"This is going to be a hard-fought election and we intend to make the case for the mayor," he said. "Having run a fiscally responsible campaign, we have more cash on hand than Rep. Love and that enables us to get up on TV earlier."