With just a week left before Election Day, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Matheson Jr. has launched what the campaign of his GOP opponent, Jon Huntsman Jr., is calling a "mild attack ad."
The criticism of the new TV spot, which says Huntsman supports controversial tuition tax credits and building "an expensive new prison," came Tuesday — the same day both campaigns filed their last financial disclosure statements before the election.
And it follows confident statements from the Huntsman campaign about his chances of winning, and a candid assessment of Matheson's chances from his own campaign manager.
Reports filed Tuesday show Matheson has raised just under $2 million, including nearly $750,000 since mid-September. Huntsman has raised more than $3.5 million, including nearly $950,000 from the candidate and his family in cash, loans and in-kind contributions.
Former WordPerfect founder and gay rights activist Bruce Bastian contributed $50,000 to Matheson this reporting period. Most of the contributions to Matheson's campaign were for $100 or less, with a total of nearly 3,000 individuals giving.
About one-fourth of Matheson's funds came from political committees, including $325,000 from the Democratic Governors Association, based in Washington, D.C.
Huntsman, who took in almost $975,000 this reporting period, boosted his line of credit for the race by some $50,000 in recent weeks to increase cash flow in the last days before the vote, according to his campaign manager, Jason Chaffetz.
Unlike Matheson, though, Chaffetz said Huntsman doesn't plan to shift the style of his campaign advertising. The governor's race has been widely praised as being one of the most positive campaigns this season.
"We're prepared with stuff. We just don't see a need to pull it out," Chaffetz said.
He said Matheson's new ad is "one of the desperate attacks you do in the waning days when your own message isn't working."
Not so, said Matheson's campaign manager, Mike Zuhl.
"I don't think it's an attack ad at all. . . . A positive campaign can point out differences," Zuhl said. "I don't think there's anything negative about it. In these remaining days we need to know the differences between the two candidates."
The commercial, available on Matheson's Web site, www.mathesonforgovernor.com, uses newspaper headlines and the voice of a narrator to highlight the "important differences" between the pair on education and the need for a new state prison.
Matheson, the ad says, opposes tuition tax credits or vouchers for private schools "which could drain tax dollars from public schools," while Huntsman is said to favor tuition tax credits, which give parents with children in private schools a tax break.
The commercial also says Matheson "wants to use the state's scarce resources to improve schools, not build an expensive new prison," like Huntsman. Huntsman has said he wants to look at moving the state prison from Draper to Tooele.
Chaffetz said the commercial was "not worthy" of a response ad.
"I'd characterize it as a mild attack ad," he said. "It's taking shots with a BB gun."
He said Huntsman doesn't need to run that kind of advertising.
"Fund raising has been great," Chaffetz said, noting the campaign is ahead of schedule toward reaching its goal of between $3.5 million and $4 million. "When they smell and sense a winner, it's easy to raise money. We're benefitting from that right now."
The campaign's tracking polls are showing Huntsman continues to lead the race, although Chaffetz would not be more specific. Huntsman said Monday his goal at this point is "just to hold our ground."
Matheson's camp sounded less optimistic about victory.
"The problem is just the nature of the state. We feel like we've been in this race from the beginning and we have a decent chance," Zuhl said. "We've done realistically what we could do."
Most Democrats, he said, don't have the resources to run a competitive race. Matheson has been able to identify education as the most important issue facing the state — a strategy, Zuhl said, is resonating with voters.
"This is a Republican state. The fact we are even competitive in this state shows it is working," he said.
Huntsman's campaign, he said, "thought they won the race the night of the primary."
Matheson said Tuesday that "he's still in the hunt."
Zuhl said he's upbeat but "I'm not crowing. We'll leave that to our opponents."