SALT LAKE CITY — The latest TV commercial from Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, features a narrator who sounds like former President Bill Clinton thanking Love's Democratic rival, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, "for all your help."
McAdams is also set to debut his campaign's first negative ad, highlighting recent allegations that Love illegally raised more than $1 million for the race and saying she's "gone Washington" while showing her next to President Donald Trump.
The real takeaway from both commercials, scheduled to start running Tuesday, may be that the already hotly contested race for the 4th Congressional District seat is heating up even more.
"I think we're going to see both campaigns becoming more aggressive," said Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "Both campaigns appear to be willing to engage in the battle."
Voters usually don't like negative campaigning, Perry said, but because it can have a cumulative effect on how they vote, candidates often end up willing to take the risk.
"When it comes to negative campaigning, you never know what is going to catch fire so candidates start feeling compelled to respond," he said. "There's no going back. But the question is, does it escalate."
Love's new 30-second spot refers to McAdams' internship with the Democratic president as well as his work for Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate and presidential campaigns.
The narrator says, "Ben, you are a great friend to Hillary and me."
Even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gets mentioned, with the narrator chuckling as he suggests that if Democrats reclaim control of the House in November, "I know you'll do a great job for her, too."
McAdams commercial begins with the question, "What do Washington politicians do when caught with $1 million in illegal contributions? Mia Love kept the money and is using it to make false attacks against Ben McAdams."
The 30-second commercial squeezes in a defense of McAdams' record on taxes as mayor from Draper Mayor Troy Walker, a Republican, already used in another ad, before returning to Love.
"Mia's changed. She's gone Washington," the commercial concludes, as Love is shown standing next to the president.
Both campaigns defended their own commercials while criticizing what their opponents were telling voters.
McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, called Love's new commercial "as phony as Mia Love" and accused the congresswoman of breaking campaign finance laws and ethics rules.
Roberts said, "worst of all, she lets us down in Congress."
He said he wasn't "sure what to call dredging up a two-decades-old college internship other than desperate. Frankly, Love's ads should serve to remind Utahns of how broken and dishonest Washington politicians like Mia Love are."
McAdams said in one of his recent commercials he would not support Pelosi as speaker if he's elected. The longtime House speaker also played prominently in the campaigns for the last Democrat to represent Utah in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson.
Love's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said the congresswoman's commercial is intended "to make sure voters understand" McAdams' "background and training" in politics come from the Clintons, who are not popular in Utah.
Bill Clinton came in third in Utah in his successful 1992 run for president and later angered many conservatives in the state by designating the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument.
Hillary Clinton came in second to President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, after finishing far behind a self-described Democratic socialist, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in that year's Democratic caucus vote.
"I think obviously, in both elections that Bill Clinton ran in Utah, he got beat. He got beat bad. Hillary got beat," Hansen said. "I don't think Utah voters like the idea of ties very close to the Clintons."
He said the message is also that if Utahns are "voting for McAdams you're voting for Nancy Pelosi for speaker." But Hansen said the ad is not saying anything negative about McAdams personally.
"I think people will like it," he said. "I think they will find it somewhat humorous."
Hansen called McAdams' new commercial "absolutely false," saying there is nothing illegal about the campaign contributions in question, the subject of a Federal Election Commission complaint by the progressive Alliance for a Better Utah.
He said tying Love to Trump is "another falsehood" because the congresswoman has been clear that "she'll support him when she thinks he's right for the district and the country" and oppose him when she thinks he's wrong.
"I think the voters of the 4th District look at it and say, 'That's not the Mia we know,'" Hansen said, describing the McAdams campaign as "just slashing back, hoping to take attention away from the problems that Ben has."
Roberts, however, said McAdams' new ad isn't negative because it "sets the record straight" about his record as mayor and informs voters about what has been reported about Love's campaign contributions.
He said McAdams "hopes that she will return the $1 million she raised in violation of the law, cease with the dishonest negative attacks, and run a campaign focused on the issues."35 comments on this story
As for linking the congresswoman to Trump, Roberts said Love votes with the president "nearly 100 percent of the time. The president's agenda is Love's agenda in Congress."
Love launched the first negative ad earlier this month in what's seen as the most contentious racein Utah, going after McAdams' record as mayor. A couple who supports McAdams have said their images were misused in the Love commercial.
The race between Love and McAdams has been rated a toss-up by at least one national entity, RealClearPolitics.com, and has sparked FEC complaints against both candidates.