Looks like bare-knuckle fighting in the 2nd Congressional District the two weeks until Election Day.
Republican John Swallow and the national GOP House PAC are "twisting the truth. They are running a smear campaign against me, and I had to respond," Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson said Thursday.
"I will never stoop to the personal attacks (Matheson) is now making against me," said Swallow. "He's attacking my character; he's in way over his head."
For a week or so both Swallow and the National Republican Congressional Committee have been running TV ads calling Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson a pawn of the Democratic congressional leaders, lambasting him for voting against President Bush's tax cuts and against the ban on partial birth abortions.
Matheson says those characterizations are gross distortions or outright lies.
Thursday night, Matheson started running a new TV ad that quotes Swallow's old Republican opponents — Tim Bridgewater and David Wilde — saying in their experience Swallow "lacks integrity" and campaigns using "falsehoods, half-truths and misstatements."
"Now he's at it again," the Matheson ad says of Swallow's latest claims about the congressman.
And, like Swallow, Matheson is now getting some national help.
Brigham Young University political science professor Kelly Patterson, who is studying key U.S. House races — including Utah's 2nd District — said he received a pro-Matheson mailer Wednesday from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
State Democratic Party chairman Donald Dunn said he fully expects the DCCC — that party's political action committee counter to the NRCC — to start running TV ads in Matheson's behalf, ads that may or may not go after Swallow.
And Swallow says he's heard the campaign committee has now bought TV ad time in Utah. "They're coming after me the last two weeks," Swallow said.
In 2000, both committees spent around $1 million each in the 2nd District race. Those contributions went up in 2002 but were difficult to track because of the Byzantine dealings between the national groups, local state parties, even cross donations between state parties.
The new McCain-Feingold federal campaign finance law has changed all that, says Dunn. "No longer can the national party give to us" and the local parties then make TV buys. "We don't know what the national party will do (on behalf of a specific candidate) — to know would be illegal."
Patterson said so far this election season, "we have not seen the outside groups come in and run independent expenditure campaigns" in the 2nd District like in 2000 and 2002. But the national party PACs will likely drop big bucks into the races, legal as long as they don't coordinate with the candidates.
What's not illegal, of course, is for the candidates or party PACs to say what they please about the opposition. And they are.
Here are some of the claims — and responses.
Swallow and the NRCC ads say Matheson votes with the "liberal" Democratic leadership three-fourths of the time.
Matheson says the "73 percent" number, if at all accurate, includes procedural votes where it is natural that he supports attempts to debate Democratic amendments to Republican bills. He goes his own way on important bills, Matheson says.
A National Journal review of key 2003 votes shows that Matheson actually voted 42 percent of the time on the conservative side of the aisle. Only 19 more Democrats in the 435-member House voted more often with conservatives than did Matheson.
Matheson voted against tax cuts, against a ban on partial birth abortions.
Matheson cites the Congressional Record to show he voted for Bush's main tax cuts.
However, since then he has voted against extending some of those cuts, while he's voted for extensions of some other of the cuts.
Matheson voted against the ban on partial birth abortions.
Matheson has voted for some Democratic-sponsored abortion bills, voted for some GOP-sponsored abortion bills, as well. He did vote against the GOP-sponsored partial birth ban bill several years ago (it did not at that time reflect Utah's own partial birth abortion statute, he says).
But he voted for the main GOP partial birth abortion ban bill last year, the same law that has now been struck down by federal courts in several states.
Since he voted for the main Bush tax cut bills and the main GOP ban on partial birth abortions (and received invites to the White House for the bills' signings), Matheson says Swallow's claims on those two issues "are just not honest."
Swallow lacks integrity and misstates opponent's positions.
Swallow beat fellow Republican Bridgewater in the 2002 and 2004 GOP primaries.
Wilde was defeated in the May 2004 GOP convention and then endorsed Bridgewater over Swallow in the primary race this year.
The two primaries against Bridgewater turned bitter. And Bridgewater did not campaign for Swallow in 2002; has not campaigned for him yet this year, either.
Swallow noted that Wilde has endorsed his run against Matheson this year. "I have no comments on (the pair's) statements, made during the tough campaigns I ran against them," said Swallow. "But they are both good Republicans. And my ads are documented evidence about how Matheson votes against a bill, then for it."
Also Thursday, the NRCC complained about Matheson's new ad, which complains about Swallow's ads.
"Matheson's ad is a disingenuous attempt to cover up his real record," said NRCC spokesman Bo Harmon.
"Because he votes both ways on every issue, of course the Congressional Record proves he voted for the things he says. Unfortunately, it also proves he voted against the bills he mentions."