SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – Voters in Utah are navigating candidates’ war of words in a hotly contested congressional race, embracing the return of a former presidential candidate and grappling with an ever-changing medical marijuana bill.
GOP Representative Mia Love and Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams are jostling for support in the Beehive State’s 4th district, with recent polls calling the race “dead even.”
But negative ads have marred both candidates’ campaigns.
In a recent television spot, McAdams quipped, “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.”
McAdams’ ad continued, “Mia’s changed. She’s gone Washington.”
Left-leaning political watchdog group Alliance for a Better Utah filed a complaint in September with the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department accusing Love of collecting campaign funds illegally, for a primary election that was never held.
Love told reporters at an October 15 debate, “The FEC actually said that if you call them, they will corroborate what we have said.”
She added in a statement the same day that McAdams was “peddling lies” about her.
Better Utah Executive Director Chase Thomas said his group’s complaint was an “open matter” that has “not changed.” But he added that calls for Love to step down from her bid were “not necessary.”
“The tactics we’ve seen from Representative Love toward our organization and our board members since we filed the complaint are those of a bully trying to quiet dissent,” Thomas said. “Our staff, our board members, and our supporters all believe in the importance and value of our accountability work and we will not be cowed, nor will our accountability work be stopped, by such tactics.”
Love, who is seeking a third term, separately took aim at McAdams’ ascent to office.
A September ad by Love showed former President Bill Clinton supposedly leaving a voicemail for McAdams, thanking him for serving as a White House intern and “moving to New York to work on Hillary’s Senate campaign.”
McAdams’ Communication Director Alyson Heyrend downplayed the notion that her team’s ads were attacks.
“Mayor McAdams’ ads talk about what he will do, such as protect Social Security and Medicare, and help lower health care costs, in contrast to Representative Love’s voting record in Congress, which has resulted in health insurance premiums increasing by 19 percent,” Heyrend said in an interview.
Love’s campaign could not be reached for comment.
Provo resident Spencer Merryweather said in an interview he couldn’t get behind the widespread “hypocrisy.”
“I feel like that is the only type of ad I see come out of either of them,” Merryweather said. “When you have to belittle your opponent in order to sound like the better of two evils.”
McAdams supporter Dustin Gettel called the candidate a “consensus builder,” who could “restore sanity and civility to Washington, D.C.”
Love “voted with Donald Trump 97.5 percent over the course of his administration, and that’s far out of step with the voters in her district,” Gettel, a Midvale City councilman, continued. “She’s served the interests of the national Republican Party, but I think she’s done disservice to the people who actually live in her congressional district.”
Amber Crawford, of Murray, cited Love’s flood damage fundraising work during her tenure as mayor of rural Saratoga Springs and her proposal to end taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlements. Love “has so much passion for her community,” Crawford said.
Of additional interest in Utah is the return of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is gunning for long-tenured Senator Orrin Hatch’s seat after he retires this November. Polls show Romney with a substantial lead over Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson.
Utah voters also have a proposed medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 2, to consider. Public opposition from the Mormon Church – the state’s largest political influencer – spurred a “compromise” to the initiative, which was modified in early October to place more restrictions on the attainment of medical marijuana.
Polls in June showed 66 percent of voters backed the initiative, but that number has fallen to 51 percent as the election nears.
David Mangone, director of Government Affairs for Americans for Safe Access, said the replacement bill “was born in fear and designed to fail.”
“More concessions were made to the financially incentivized opposition to safe access and under this replacement legislation, Utah’s sick are treated as criminals until proven patients,” Christine Stenquist, executive director of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) Utah said. “It is important that when crafting a quality program that is patient-centric, we call on experts from the field for guidance.”
Utah is currently the nation’s fastest-growing state and a leader in job growth.