At Labor Day launch of serious campaigning, Mia Love and Ben McAdams attack each other

(Tribune File Photos) Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, right, plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Mia Love to represent Utah in Congress.

Labor Day is the traditional start for serious campaigning — and GOP Rep. Mia Love and Democratic challenger Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams are busy hammering each other in ads, social media, fundraising letters and verbal jabs.

Love is trying to depict McAdams as a liberal, while a new McAdams ad insists he is so moderate he will even vote against House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House.

McAdams is trying to portray Love as a captive of special interests who receives more than 90 percent of her donations from out of state — while her ads stress that she works for Utahns.

The two even disagree about how close the race is. McAdams says his internal polling now shows they are just 2 percentage points apart in essentially a statistical tie. Love’s campaign says its polling shows otherwise and predicts she will pull away for a big win. Outsiders have shown Love with about a 6-point lead.

Some of the latest back-and-forth began with a fundraising email Love sent, telling supporters McAdams is really a liberal in hiding who “was ‘pleased’ with the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage.” She has criticized that ruling.

McAdams fired back via Twitter that “Mia Love’s efforts to divide us over equality is shameful,” calling her email “divisive, ugly and wrong. I’m proud of my work to build bridges. She should apologize, disavow and return any money” raised by the email.

McAdams, meanwhile, is starting a new ad showing him showering while wearing his clothes saying, “What’s going on in Washington makes you feel dirty. With all the special interest money and corruption, we need to clean it up.”

It also depicts him as so moderate that “I don’t support Nancy Pelosi for speaker.” He is one of about two dozen Democratic House Democrats nationwide who have vowed to oppose the California lawmaker. “It’s time for a leadership change,” he said in an interview.

But Dave Hansen, Love’s campaign manager, said, “The simple fact is if he is elected and Democrats get control, Nancy Pelosi is going to be the speaker of the House. If you don’t elect a Republican who votes for a Republican, the vote is in effect for Nancy Pelosi.”

While McAdams’ new ad may merely imply that Love is a captive of special interests, he was more direct about that in an interview.

He notes that Love has raised more than 90 percent of her money from out of state, and “she’s taking a lot of money from special interests, and her votes line up with the special interests that support her,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Special interests do have a corrupting influence in Washington, and that has to stop.”

While McAdams attacks Love’s donations from special interests, the most recent disclosure forms show he has accepted $252,000 from special-interest political action committees this cycle, compared with $791,640 by Love. But McAdams says the majority of his money has come from in-state donors.

Hansen said, “The charge that we are under control of special interests, that’s crap. That’s just another false charge. She’s never been under the control of special interests. She supports whatever the voters in the 4th District want.” He adds that she “has supporters in Utah and around the nation, and if they want to donate, that’s fine.”

Love has been trying to reinforce the idea that she works for Utah with an ad saying she fought to help free Joshua Holt, who was imprisoned in Venezuela for nearly two years.

"Mia is definitely one that gets results,” Holt’s mother, Laurie, says in the ad. President Donald Trump brought Holt to the White House to celebrate his administration’s work for his release.

Love launched another social media attack on McAdams for sending out a fundraising email from Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.

“This is the same Joe Kennedy who has a 100 percent rating by Planned Parenthood” and “votes with Nancy Pelosi 97 percent of the time,” she wrote. “Is this the kind of Democrat Ben would be in Congress?”

McAdams said in an interview that such efforts to paint him as a liberal are “an attempt to distract from the fact that she has done nothing and really has put this congressional district on auto pilot and handed over her vote to special interests who tell her how to vote.”

He added, “The more she tries a vindictive campaign about mischaracterizing me and my record, the less we talk about issues. It’s disappointing and the voters deserve better than what she’s given.”

Hansen said, “On issues, he is a liberal, no matter what he says.” For example, he said, spending by Salt Lake County has increased 50 percent in the years he has been mayor, “but the population’s gone up only 7 percent. His spending is not moderate, it’s liberal.”

The candidates are also painting different pictures about how close the race is.

McAdams released results of a poll commissioned by him by The Mellman Group, conducted with 400 likely voters between Aug. 20-23. It shows Love leading 46-44, in what it calls a statistical tie since the statistical margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

“This race is going to come down to the wire,” he said. “We are working hard to talk to each and every voter.”

Hansen said Love’s polling shows otherwise.

“As voters begin to focus more on the two candidates, she will lead with a comfortable margin,” he predicts. Hansen noted there was a lot of talk about a close finish two years ago between her and Doug Owens, “but she ended up winning by nearly 14 percent, a huge win.”

Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight.com predicts that McAdams has only a one in six chance of beating Love on Nov. 6. It bases its predictions on available public polls, historical trends and polling in similar districts.