SALT LAKE CITY — The first TV commercial from an outside organization is set to air in the 4th Congressional District race, supporting Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, and slamming her Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
The 30-second spot is from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super political action committee that's spending more than $100 million nationwide to maintain the Republican majority in the U.S. House.
Love is praised for "helping Utah grow, lower taxes, fewer burdensome regulations and a balanced budget amendment to control spending," while McAdams is labeled a professional politician who believes in bigger government.
The commercial claims that as Salt Lake County mayor, McAdams "grew his budget by over $500 million and rewarded himself with pay raises every year," and shows a man holding his head in his hands as a narrator says, "That's your money McAdams is wasting."
McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts said in a statement that "voters are disappointed in Rep. Love's record of saying one thing in Utah while doing another in Washington" and called her "part of a deeply divided, corrupt do-nothing Congress."
Roberts said the campaign had not seen the ad.
Campaigns are not allowed to coordinate what's considered independent expenditures in political races. According to the Federal Election Commission, about $234,000 has been spent to support Love, mostly from the Virgin Islands GOP.
The FEC lists a single $44 independent expenditure made on behalf of McAdams, from the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization advocating for LGBT equality.
The FEC numbers don't include recent expenditures, including by the Congressional Leadership Fund. Love's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said it's "a pretty big buy that they've made," nearly $1 million in TV time.
Hansen said he isn't surprised the PAC is paying for TV commercials in the race, seen as a toss-up by the Cook Political Report and other national ratings entities. He said the fund also ran a commercial for Love in 2016.
But that was "a pretty soft ad," Hansen said that featured a woman considering her choices in the congressional district that includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties.
This time, he said the fund's commercial is similar to "the messages we've been hitting about both Mia and about Ben." Hansen said while he is "not sure" the campaign needs the help, "we'll certainly take it."
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said the introduction of independently funded commercials into the race reflects its competitiveness, despite Utah's strong GOP tilt.
"Republicans are trying to defend districts in very Republican states. So that's not a great sign if you're a Republican hoping to maintain the congressional majority," he said. "But I don't think it necessarily means she's in trouble."
Karpowitz said the race, seen for some time as likely to be close, is "one where outside messaging might make a difference," especially if it's on behalf of the Republican.
"For a Democrat to win in the state of Utah, he has to distinguish himself from the national Democratic Party brand," Karpowitz said, meaning any efforts by national Democrats for McAdams may not be helpful.