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Vandals target Huntsman

Vandals have struck savagely against Republican gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., stealing campaign signs and a trailer, smashing a window in his downtown headquarters, repeat- edly egging his home and breaking into and stealing from cars in his driveway.

Some of this might be chalked up to pranks, said Huntsman campaign manager Jason Chaffetz. "But when you look at the laundry list of what's happened here . . . you feel as if you're clearly a target in a concerted effort to harass the campaign."

He was swift to assure that the Huntsman organization does not suspect wrongdoing by the campaign of Democrat rival Scott Matheson Jr.

The latest incident happened sometime early Sunday when someone shattered a large second-floor window in the Huntsman downtown campaign headquarters, located in the Crandall Building, the northwest corner of 100 South and Main.

By midafternoon most of the broken glass had been cleared, but still some gritted underfoot on the sidewalk and larger bits glared in the sun. Two big campaign signs, turned on their sides, covered the broken window.

Police had cordoned off that part of the block because of concerns that large pieces of glass would fall from the broken window. Soon, "we got all of that cleaned up," said Chaffetz.

The entire window was smashed. Someone had thrown something from outside and the object had broken the glass then bounced off a Huntsman sign just inside the window. The object had ricocheted back toward the street and someone, probably the perpetrator, had picked it up and taken it away.

Asked if he thought if the vandalism was politically motivated, he replied, "Well, there are thousands of windows in downtown Salt Lake. The only one that was smashed out was the Huntsman," to the best of his knowledge.

"In the past days we've had over 500 (campaign) signs stolen," he added. "The Huntsmans' house has been egged at least a half-dozen times. And even Jon Huntsman's personal car has been broken into and stuff on the inside of the car stolen."

Also within the past month, he said, an enclosed four-wheel trailer with campaign supplies inside was stolen from the organization's West Valley office, 2185 S. Redwood Road. It has never turned up, and it contained hundreds of signs for the governor's race, he said.

The most disturbing incident for the Huntsman family was when cars were broken into at the home.

"At roughly 3 o'clock in the morning the perpetrators had the nerve to call and leave a voice mail message on one of the kids' phones as they were committing the crime," he said.

The phone used to leave the message, which he described as threatening-sounding, belonged to Mary Kaye Huntsman, the candidate's wife. It was taken from one of the cars.

The caller knew the home was that of the Huntsman family, he said. But Chaffetz would not say what message was left on the machine. "It's part of an ongoing investigation," he said.

There is clearly no indication the actions have anything to do with Matheson's run for governor, he added. "No, no way. No way," Chaffetz said.

"But the authorities are going to work very hard to try to figure out who it is," he said.

He could not comment on whether any clues have turned up. The damage has cost thousands of dollars for the signs alone, and he does not know how many hundreds of dollars it will cost to replace the window.

Asked if he was aware of such a spate of vandalism in any other Utah race, he sad, "I'm not aware of something like this, in such a concerted effort." Special security efforts are being made, but the organization would not say what those are.

Mike Zuhl, campaign manager for the Matheson gubernatorial effort, called the window-smashing unfortunate. "Who knows what's responsible for that?" he asked.

Concerning the series of vandalism attacks, he said, "I can assure you it has no connection to the Matheson campaign. . . .

"We've had hundreds of signs stolen as well. We've had many vandalized. Regrettably, that happens in campaigns. It's unfortunate, but it does."

Anyone who has been through political campaigns knows that candidates lose hundreds of signs and must replace them, he said.

"We've actually had conversations about this" with the Huntsman team, Zuhl added. "We assured them we had nothing to do with their signs being taken. I'm sure they had nothing to do with our signs being taken. It's the nature of campaigns."


E-mail: bau@desnews.com