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Ads target Matheson on health care

U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is being buffeted by health-care-reform political winds blowing from the right and the left.

And the storm is only getting worse.

Matheson is being hit by TV, radio and e-mail campaigns telling him to either stand with national Democrats on health-care reform or go with Republicans on the controversial issue. Matheson, a member of the U.S. House's conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, does not yet support any health-care-reform plan.

At least Matheson won't have any organized state GOP opposition on the matter, says Republican Party state chairman Dave Hansen.

Across the nation, some local Republican Party leaders are organizing supporters to attend Democratic incumbents' town hall meetings during the August congressional break to voice opposition to the majority party's health-care reforms.

Hansen says the Utah GOP is staying out for now because "Utahns are pretty ginned up" in opposition to parts of national Democrats' plans.

"They will be going to town hall meetings anyway," he said.

It's also because the state GOP Web site is down, so GOP leaders can't communicate with lots of people.

But here's the kicker: Matheson, Utah's only congressional Democrat, won't be holding any town hall meetings. He gave them up a year or so ago and now only uses high-tech telephone conference call meetings. And he only does those when he's back in Washington, D.C., while Congress is in session.

"We won't be doing any town hall meetings, electronic or otherwise, this August," said Alyson Heyrend, Matheson's Utah spokeswoman.

A number of Democratic members of Congress say that local GOP groups are sending loyalists to their town meetings to demonstrate against health-care reform.

Even if Matheson were doing an electronic meeting — where a system calls tens of thousands of 2nd District homes and cell phones at one time so citizens can participate — Matheson, sitting in an off-site studio, controls who gets to ask questions and can cut someone off if they yell at him.

Hansen said the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has targeted Matheson for defeat next year, has started running radio ads in Utah, telling listeners to call Matheson and tell him not to support any plans from the Democrats or President Barack Obama.

"It is a light (advertising) buy on a few local stations," said Hansen, who heard the first ad Tuesday morning.

The Utah GOP has nothing to do with the ads, though Hansen said he was consulted by the NRCC and made aware that the ads were coming during the August congressional break.

The liberal group MoveOn.org has started running some pro-Obama health-care ads in Utah as well, representing the opposing view.

Heyrend said one national group, Conservatives For Patients' Rights, is running a cable TV ad against Matheson.

Another national group, Tea Party Patriots, has started e-mail campaigns against Democrats nationally, including giving out dates, locations and times of town hall meetings along with talking points, she said. A third group, FreedomWorks, is e-mailing out talking points and scripts to challenge Democratic congressmen and Obama at their public meetings, said Heyrend.

Hansen said the state GOP allows any Republican officeholder access to its large e-mail list. The party also allows GOP incumbents to send out mass e-mailings through that list. However, at this time, there are no plans to use that system to ask Republicans to oppose Matheson on health-care reform — although the topic likely will be part of the Republicans' 2010 2nd District campaign to unseat Matheson.

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com