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The 2nd Congressional District race has succumbed to name-calling.

Perhaps it was inevitable, although Democrat Ross Anderson says he believed the race could have stayed on the high ground both he and Republican Merrill Cook agreed to last June.At a University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics debate Thursday, Cook said Anderson was "the world's biggest hypocrite and flip-flopper."

In a new TV ad, Anderson says Cook is spending "hundreds of thousands of dollars deceiving" voters. He adds Cook and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which paid for a recent Cook mailer, are lying and engaging in "dirty tricks" to win.

Cook says he and Anderson have participated in more than 60 debates or joint appearances this summer and fall. They've met so often they know each other's speeches.

But the campaign hasn't gotten boring toward the end of so much talking - it's gotten nasty.

Cook was peppered Thursday at the U. with a number of questions from those who clearly favored Anderson. Cook had one friend in the audience, a man who asked Anderson to justify his "liberal extreme" stands.

One man asked Cook to justify his stands on gay and lesbian issues, specifically same-sex marriages. The man said he was at a gay bar "on Halloween night two years ago" when Cook came into the bar with his then-campaign manager, Shari Howleg, and talked to patrons. The man asked how "your shift in platform" affects Cook's credibility today. "How can we ever believe you?" the man asked Cook.

Anderson says Cook in 1994 gave gays and lesbians the impression that he sympathized with their problems and concerns, only to turn on them in this election "and make (same-sex marriages and other gay issues) the mainstay of your campaign."

Anderson accuses Cook of breeding prejudice and hatred "with this divisive issue" for purely "blatant political gain."

Cook said he and Howleg did indeed go into a downtown bar on Halloween two years ago, when Cook ran as the Independent Party candidate in the 2nd Congressional District.

Cook said he and Howleg had been campaigning that day in a humorous manner in downtown State Street businesses. Playing off Halloween dress-up, Howleg was dressed "like a detective" - a slam at the campaign of GOP candidate Enid Greene, which hired a private detective over the summer of 1994 to check into supposed threats to her safety. Cook would walk into a business to engage voters, Howleg would come in a bit later acting like Enid's detective to draw a laugh.

Cook says he didn't attempt to mislead patrons in the gay bar. "I encouraged the members of the gay and lesbian community (in the bar) to vote for someone who believes in decent treatment" for homosexuals, said Cook. Cook said he didn't tell the patrons that he'd support same-sex marriages or changes in anti-discrimination law to include sexual preference as a protected category.

Only race, religion and gender should be in anti-discrimination law, he said. Business managers need to have the authority to control their work force, "for one reason or another, and whether I agree with (the bosses) or not," said Cook.

"And as I understand it, that is a completely different line than he was handing out two years ago" on Halloween night in the gay bar, said Anderson. Accusing Cook of misrepresenting his stand on same-sex marriages, Anderson said: "I am not going to go back to Congress and advocate same-sex marriage. I've always said that, that the issue doesn't belong in Congress."

For Cook to campaign on same-sex marriages "is an absolute disgrace," said Anderson.