Normally placid Utah County Sheriff David Bateman stepped out of character Monday, launching a personal attack on opponent Richard Mack during a debate between the two Republican candidates.Bateman labeled Mack an extremist and predicted dire consequences for law enforcement in Utah County if Mack wins the Republican primary June 23. Bateman criticized the former Graham County, Ariz., sheriff for using the term "Sheriff Mack" in campaign literature and for indicating he would like to start a civilian posse in Utah County.
"My concern has been that I don't think people really know him," Bateman said. "I don't think they're familiar with the baggage he brings to this election. My purpose tonight was to focus attention on who he really is."
Bateman read 1995 articles from the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe newspapers that highlighted Mack's support of the militia movement and his threats to encourage civilians to take up arms against the federal government. Bateman suggested that Mack would use similar tactics if he were elected Utah County sheriff.
Monday's surprising attack represents a first for Bateman, who has tried until now to focus his campaign rhetoric on his own record during 13 years as sheriff. But after nearly being eliminated by Mack at the county nominating convention last month - and with the primary rapidly approaching - Bateman felt the need to depart from the congenial approach.
"I've been trying to run an issues-oriented campaign based on my record," Bateman said. "I decided that just wasn't getting it done.
"Frankly, I got kind of tired of being treated like nothing."
Mack's controversial stance against the Brady gun-control law has given him a high-profile platform from which to campaign, Bateman said. But he fears voters haven't caught on to Mack's "chameleon-like" ways of shifting views and avoiding issues.
Mack's election could bring lawsuits and conflict not only in the sheriff's office but among all the police agencies in the county, Bateman said.
Mack, meanwhile, took offense at the attacks but didn't deny that he is different from most candidates. He said that he was surprised by Bateman's new approach and speculated that it was motivated by the sheriff's "fear and desperation."
"If you're basing your votes on those rumors and lies, then you're basing your votes on rumors and lies," Mack told the audience at the Provo City Center. "I think we owe each other more than that.
"I'll say it: I am not mainstream. The other word you can replace that with is innovative."
Mack said that statements attributed to him in the newspaper articles read by Bateman were misquoted and unreliable. He said he could be digging up dirt on Bateman but he has wanted to take the high road instead.
Meanwhile, Bateman agreed with Mack's assessment that Mack is not mainstream, but Bateman differed on the word's antonym.
"He even says he's not mainstream," Bateman said. "If he's not mainstream, what is he? I looked up extreme in the dictionary, and he fit the description pretty well."
The two candidates verbally sparred for two hours while answering questions posed by a panel of Utah County journalists as well as residents attending the debate. The race has been one of the most heated primary election battles in Utah County this year and has picked up steam since Mack nearly doubled Bateman's delegate vote total at the nominating convention.
Whichever candidate gets the most votes during the primary election will face Democrat George Alexanderson in the November general election.