It was too good to last.
Until a week ago, Ross Anderson and Merrill Cook were both saying their 2nd Congressional District race was civil, an issue-oriented debate in a sea of national negative campaigning.But then Anderson (says Anderson) started closing on Cook in the polls, and Cook (says Anderson) decided he needed to start talking about Anderson's stands on "hot- button" issues like the death penalty, same-sex marriages and abortion.
Malicious, outrageous, deceitful lies resulted, says Anderson. Not so, says Cook. But Cook is discussing these days Anderson's societal stands (liberal, liberal, liberal, says Cook).
What was civil has become uncivil, says Anderson.
To get at the core of each candidate's view of each other, the Deseret News asked Anderson and Cook to detail the political weaknesses of their opponent. Here are some responses:
Cook: "Ross Anderson's fundamental weakness is his extremism. He once said he represents the minority view of the minority (Democratic) party. His candidacy, whether he wins or not, has set the Utah Democratic Party back; while (party leaders) are trying to lead the party back to the middle he takes it to the left. He opposes the death penalty, favors same-sex marriages and abortion, even partial-birth abortions."
Anderson is so far to the left he can't even get endorsements from Attorney General Jan Graham and Rep. Bill Orton, says Cook. "He's just too negative a person. He ran on the left to win the primary but now can't move to the middle. His campaign has run out of gas and is fundamentally flawed. He could win a race in only a few U.S. House districts in America, like in San Francisco or New York City."
Anderson: "I never said I represent the minority views. On some issues I knew I was in the minority. But certainly not on the fundamental issues facing us (like balancing the federal budget while protecting the middle class, poor and elderly). On those not only am I in the majority of the Democratic Party but majority of Americans, too." Anderson said he opposes partial-birth abortions except in cases where the mother's health and life is in danger.
"Such blustering (about not being able to win) may make Merrill feel better, but I have the strong support of all Utah Democratic leaders. It's Merrill who flip-flopped on the Republican Party." Anderson then quoted from a 1992 newspaper article where Cook is quoted as calling GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt a "santimonious phony" over a argument over Cook's and Leavitt's abortion stands.
Anderson: Cook's main weakness is that he's run six times, lost six times; backed three citizen initiatives, all lost. "He's run for offices over 11 years and spent more than $3 million of his own money - that's more than $780 a day over 11 years trying to get elected to just about any office. One of the problems of our political system is that we have so many multi-millionaires trying to buy their way into Congress."
Cook: Running six times and spending $3 million "is a major benefit, not a weakness. I'm proud of those races and that (financial) commitment; my wife and children are proud. We've made a difference in this state. Now (all those campaigns) will come to fruition."
Cook: Anderson "is a fighter, a cause man, and I respect his ability and agility. But he doesn't feel the society he lives in is one he likes to live in, so he lashes out. It's too bad. I challenge him to use his wonderful talent for more positive things. He's extremism is just too negative."
Anderson: "An interesting (opinion) coming from a man who spent $3 million in six losing races. I've worked extremely hard in this community and touched thousands of lives in a positive way while Merrill Cook has been working and spending money only to promote himself. I only hope that when Merrill Cook finally decides to stop running for office that he'll devote his time and money as I have to truly bettering his community."
Anderson: "One never knows where Merrill Cook stands on any issue, he's changed his stands; on cutting taxes while trying to balance our (federal) budget, wilderness acreage, choice (in abortion), poverty tests for entitlement programs, the Brady (handgun control) law, the Contract With America, light rail and particularly Leavitt - who he criticized in 1992."
Cook: "Mike Leavitt has turned out to be a great governor. Remember, he was a private citizen seeking office when I challenged him (in the governor's race) in 1992.
"Me? Switched positions? That's laughable. If people know anything, they know what Merrill Cook stands for." That, in part, is what 11 years, six campaigns and $3 million has done: educated people about Cook, says Cook. He opposed the $500-per-child tax cut in 1994 at the same time of budget-balancing because "the $500 credit cost too much. I still don't like it. I'm for a fairer, simpler income tax." But if a GOP-controlled House will only vote on a $500 credit, he'd take it over no tax cut. "When you've been involved (in campaigns) as long as I have, you can twist some (quote) out of context and make something look like something it isn't.
"Ross Anderson's campaign is about one thing: Stop Merrill Cook from winning. He talks about me (in Anderson ads) more than he talks about himself, what he'd do. His only campaign is `Merrill Cook is too rich, he's run too many times, spent too much.' "
(Anderson says he wants to talk taxes, how to balance the budget, education, how to protect Social Security and Medicare, but Cook keeps bringing up "hot button" issues.)