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Utah attorney general GOP candidates Sean Reyes, John Swallow engaged in nasty battle

SALT LAKE CITY — The Republican campaigns for Utah attorney general have taken a nasty turn with just a week to go before the primary election.

Candidates Sean Reyes and John Swallow are both the targets of mean-spirited PAC ads, leading to sniping from both sides.

"A number of people warned me before I got into the race that that's how John Swallow's team plays," Reyes said. "He knows he can't beat me when it comes to credentials, either legal credentials or leadership credentials, so he resorts to these kinds of bush league tactics."

Anti-Reyes TV ads are being run by a SuperPAC registered in Las Vegas called It's Now or Never. It's unclear who's funding them. Swallow said he doesn't know anything about it.

Meantime, a group called UTE PAC went after Swallow in a mailer to 30,000 Republicans. The PAC has ties to local Democrats. Its financial backing hasn't been disclosed.

"I don't know if there's a word in that flier that's true," Swallow said. "I think the message is 'Republicans, we don't want this Republican elected. He's too conservative.'"

Reyes and Swallow are vying to replace three-term Attorney General Mark Shurtleff who is not seeking re-election. The primary election winner faces Democrat Weber County Attorney Dee Smith.

The two GOP candidates are scheduled to debate on KSL Radio's "Doug Wright Show" on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Though the attorney general is considered the state's top cop, the office also gets involved in political issues such as illegal immigration, public lands and federal health care. It also conducts criminal and civil investigations and defends the state in court.

Swallow, 49, wears his conservative ideals proudly, noting that as a state legislator he voted for school choice and English only and against in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. His campaign has focused on Utah's fight to take control of federal lands in the state and overturning the Affordable Care Act.

Conservatism and his experience, he said, set him apart from Reyes.

"Anybody can talk like a conservative, but unless they have a record you really don't know if you can trust what they're saying," said Swallow, who has worked as Shurtleff's chief deputy the past 2 1/2 years.

Swallow said he's learned as chief deputy that there's a bigger role for the attorney general to play in fighting against federal intrusion into Utahns' lives. "There is a difference between having a moderate or liberal and having a conservative attorney general," he said.

Reyes, too, considers himself a conservative Republican and said those principles will guide his approach to issues. But "largely the function of the attorney is nonpartisan in defending families and defending people's rights and liberties."

As attorney general, he said he would advocate for family and parental choice, protect the business environment and defend the state against federal intrusion.

A former litigator who currently works as a corporate attorney, Reyes, 41, contends the attorney general's office has become "hyper political" under Shurtleff and Swallow.

Voters, he said, are "hiring the attorney general, not the lobbyist general, not the fundraiser general or the candidate general."

"We want a law office for the people, which is different. We don't want a political office," Reyes said.

Swallow made waves earlier this month when a tape recording surfaced of him talking about wanting to move the state Division of Consumer Protection under the attorney general's purview.

"That's an issue I will explore," he said, adding he would discuss it with the governor and Legislature. "If we think it's a good idea, we'll do it. If not we'll discard it."

Reyes said there's no good reason to move consumer protection. He said the only reason someone would want to do that is to concentrate and consolidate power. "I'm leery when there's not checks and balances," he said.

On illegal immigration, both candidates say they would take a different approach than Shurtleff, who takes a moderate approach to the issue.

Swallow said he would not be as public as his boss. Immigration, he said, is a policy issue for the governor and Legislature, while the attorney general has a lesser role. If there are laws he wants to promote, Swallow said he would do it from behind the scenes.

Reyes said he would be "stronger" than Shurtleff on illegal immigration matters, particularly when it comes to identity theft and identity fraud, which he said needs to be prosecuted more.

Swallow and Reyes bring different backgrounds to the office. Swallow spent part of his childhood on an alfalfa farm outside Ely, Nev. His father died when he was young. Reyes grew in Southern California where his part Spanish, part Filipino father immigrated from the Philippines.

Both candidates earned undergraduate degrees from Brigham Young University. Swallow obtained his law degree at BYU, while Reyes got his at UC Berkeley. Swallow worked as commercial litigator, corporate attorney and lobbyist. He served three terms in the Utah Legislature and made two unsuccessful bids for Congress. Reyes worked as a litigator and is currently a corporate attorney. This is his first run for public office.