Utah now has its first $10 million House race in the back-and-forth slugfest between Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson and Republican challenger Mia Love.
All that money will result in a spike in the already heavy slate of TV ads, including new spots featuring a direct appeal by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Matheson said in an interview Monday that Utah is about to face a deluge unlike anything he has seen before, with the average viewer expected to see 11 or 12 ads daily between now and Election Day, based on the number of spots that have been purchased.
"If people thought we’d seen saturation, the voters in Utah don’t know what saturation is," said the six-term congressman. "They’re going to find out."
Matheson said he has bought about a quarter of the airtime, followed by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Love campaign and various outside groups.
"It’s just unheard of at this time," Love said in an interview Tuesday, "but we are just putting good, positive things out there."
The ads are not cheap. Outside spending by more than a dozen groups has now topped $6 million, while Matheson has raised $2.3 million for his 4th Congressional District bid and Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs and a first-time federal candidate, has brought in $2.1 million.
The spending has been remarkably even, with $5.3 million supporting Matheson and $5.2 million backing Love, when outside money is combined with campaign spending.
Love may well close that small gap as she has continued to ramp up her fundraising. In the past two weeks, she has outraised Matheson $124,500 to $80,400 and on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will be in South Jordan for a $100 per person luncheon benefiting Love. It is Boehner’s second time in the state and comes just a few days after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., also made an appearance, trying to boost Love’s bid to become the first black GOP woman elected to Congress.
Love will use at least some of that money to push a new ad unveiled Tuesday that shows Romney touting her candidacy. The video message replaces a recording of Romney the campaign has pushed through automated phone calls and radio and TV spots.
Romney, a beloved candidate in the state for his work on the 2002 Olympics and his Mormon faith, says: "There is much at stake for Utah in this election. That is why we need Mia Love in Congress."
Love said voters in the district like Romney and the spot helps refute ads that have been critical of her.
"Mitt is actually saying, ‘I trust Mia on these issues. I trust Mia to keep taxes low. I trust Mia to protect our seniors. I trust Mia on education,’ " she said. "It dispels all the negative ads that are out there. It says, ‘Listen, I’m putting my own name behind her, I support her,’ and I think that’s going to help."
The ad is a counterpunch to recent Matheson spots that show Republicans supporting his campaign, including a mayor in the 4th Congressional District who says he is voting for Romney and Matheson.
Matheson’s ability to survive in largely conservative Utah congressional districts has frustrated the dominant Republican Party, but he has yet to face a challenger who could match him financially as Love has.
Still, to put the race in financial perspective, the Matheson-Love contest has cost $10.5 million counting spending from all sources, while Sen. Orrin Hatch has spent more than $12 million on his re-election bid — a record — using money he has directly raised.
Hatch’s campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said there are clear differences between the contests. For one, Hatch runs a statewide campaign, giving him far more territory to cover. He also amassed a large paid campaign staff that recruited delegates to the state Republican convention and helped him in a primary fight against Republican Dan Liljenquist.
Matheson and Love avoided primary challengers and have only spent heavily since the middle of August.
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