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Season of the Tricks

The e-mail that made the rounds Tuesday evening was almost too incredible to be true. And, indeed, it wasn’t true.

A purported volunteer on the Jim Matheson campaign was coming clean, unable to stomach Matheson’s wavering and dodging on questions of whether he planned to vote for Barack Obama.

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So "Tanya Stanworth" forwarded an e-mail supposedly from Matheson campaign officials, telling volunteers that, when asked, they should find out who the person asking the question plans to support and then tell them that Matheson is leaning that way, too.

Here’s the e-mail in full:


"We have been getting many inquiries about who Congressman Matheson will be endorsing for President. We urge you to feel out each caller for their party affiliation and then state that Congressman Matheson is leaning toward the caller's affiliated party's candidate.

"We have the luxury of having an Independent voice in Jim Matheson. He does in fact lean towards Romney on some issues and President Obama on others. He does not lock himself in a partisan box. This gives us the flexibility to handle the presidential endorsement question as stated above.

"Thanks for all you do! We couldn't do it without your help. Our victory is just around the corner!


"Matheson Campaign Team"

The e-mail spread quickly, it was posted on Facebook, linked to on Twitter, and Holly Richardson, who has volunteered for Love and is now working for a third-party group on the campaign, posted it on her Holly On The Hill blog (later retracting it).

But nobody bothered to check out the story. Turns out, Tanya Stanworth isn’t on the voter rolls in Utah. Nor has she, according to the Matheson campaign's records, ever volunteered for the campaign.

The Matheson campaign, of course, adamantly denied that the e-mail came from the campaign.

"It’s a dirty trick. It’s a falsehood," said spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend. "This did not come from the Matheson campaign. End of story."

Indeed, Tanya Stanworth barely exists at all, except in two places on the Internet. First, there is a YouTube account with her name, and the account creator has posted a favorable comment and "liked" videos favorable to Sen. Mike Lee.

Second, there is an empty Google Plus account — I know, people use Google Plus? — with Stanworth’s name and two friends: Jordan Linford and John Porter.

Linford's LinkedIn account touts himself as a social media specialist for Lee, who says his role is to "create buzz" for the senator.

Lee, you’ll recall, was victim of dirty tricks in his bid for Senate, with the now-infamous "Temple Mailer," which sought to make it appear that Lee was questioning then-Sen. Bob Bennett’s faith, but was apparently sent by Bennett supporters.

Linford has also worked for Freedomworks, the D.C.-based interest group that has targeted Matheson in recent elections, including this one.

The videos that Stanworth "liked" were posted on the YouTube account of "Goverso," which has also posted videos critical of Matheson while a photo account under Goverso’s name has pictures of Linford and the birth of his child.

Linford’s LinkedIn says he works at Focus, a call center that was led and co-owned by Dan Liljenquist, who ran against Orrin Hatch with huge Freedomworks backing and whose campaign Richardson chaired.

Linford didn’t return messages on his cell phone. Stanworth’s email, used to send the apparently fabricated whistleblower e-mail, has been deactivated.

This isn’t an indictment of the people mentioned above. Just a warning that, as in every election, right around Halloween there are bound to be tricks and treats, and you should probably check out those claims that seem too good to be true.

UPDATED: The Stanworth Google Plus account was deleted. Not surprising. So I've included the screen capture.

-- Robert Gehrke

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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