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Utah’s GOP attorney general race turns into furious fight

Match between Republicans John Swallow and Sean Reyes sparks negative ads, lawsuit.

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The incident has taken on a life of its own, being mocked in a video and then in the PAC ad.

"It wasn’t my intent to fight with them or get into a big confrontation with them. I just wanted them to understand the consequences of their actions," he said. "It wasn’t very productive."

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Swallow has been involved in politics for 15 years, including a stint as a state lawmaker and two unsuccessful runs for Congress.

But friends say he really found his stride when he became the deputy attorney general under Shurtleff three years ago.

Boyd Kraig, who has known Swallow for 25 years, was with him both nights the 49-year-old discovered he’d lost to U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in 2002 and 2004. He said the second loss "humbled" him.

"Whenever you’re all-in — and John certainly was — and it doesn’t work out, it shakes you to your core," Kraig said. "I think that loss made John introspective for a long time."

Swallow said he’s been shaped by several things in his life — bouncing around between California, Utah, Nevada and Alaska while growing up — and working on his father’s farm as a teenager.

He said one incident in particular came to define his pragmatic, internal drive.

As he tells it, he was 15 and driving a tractor towing hay bales. It was well past midnight when en route, it got stuck in the mud. He ran to his dad to tell him.

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"He just rolled over and said, ‘Figure it out.’ " Swallow said. "And went back to sleep."

Swallow said he spent the next four hours removing more than 60, 120-pound bales to get the tractor out of the mud. He delivered the hay and got home just at dawn.

And what did his dad say?

"Not a word," Swallow said. "He expected it."

He said that methodical approach to a job is how things get done and that people should simply expect results from the Attorney General’s Office, too.

"It taught me I could solve a problem if I was willing to pay the price," he said.

The nastiness of the primary has featured an array of allegations and revelations that’s left mud on both sides. Among the issues raised are campaign-violation investigations on both sides — Swallow’s former congressional campaign paid an $8,000 fine for excessive contributions and Reyes’ A.G. campaign was questioned, but ultimately cleared, over a reported $5,000 contribution before he was a candidate.

Quin Monson, assistant political science professor at BYU, said all the allegations and countercharges may not add up to much because "up until now, the race has largely been invisible to most voters."

dmontero@sltrib.comTwitter: @davemontero

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

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