Outside groups spending north of $1.5 million in the Love-McAdams race

(Scott G. Winterton | Deseret News, pool photo) Congresswoman Mia Love and Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams shake hands as they take part in a debate at the Gail Miller Conference Center at Salt Lake Community College in Sandy as the two battle for Utah's 4th Congressional District on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018.

Washington • Outside groups are pouring more than $1.5 million into television ads in Utah amid a neck-and-neck race between Rep. Mia Love and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

The bulk of the money, some $1.14 million, is coming from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan who is trying to retain a GOP majority in the chamber against a possible blue wave.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved $235,000 in commercial time in Salt Lake City as Democrat McAdams attempts to unseat Republican Love in a bitterly fought campaign.

Another Democratic group, Patriot Majority USA, is expected to toss in some $500,000 in the state for commercials raising questions about Love’s campaign contributions and office spending.

The outside spending, which is not directly tied to either campaign, is detailed in reports filed by television stations and cable networks with the Federal Communications Commission as well as media buyer information.

Outside groups can legally run such ads as long as it is not in concert with a candidate's committee.

The choice is clear,” says a narrator in the Congressional Leadership Fund ad. “Mia will help grow the economy. McAdams will grow government. We can’t afford Ben McAdams.”

The ad echoes the argument Love has made about McAdams.

Patriot Majority USA's ad hits Love on accepting $1 million in campaign donations for a primary she never faced, an issue the Federal Election Commission has said may have violated the law. (Love said the FEC has cleared her of any wrongdoing, a point the FEC has not confirmed.)

It’s another scandal for Mia Love,” the narrator intones, citing news stories about the primary contributions and older articles about reimbursing her congressional office for flights to Washington to attend the swanky White House Correspondents' Association dinner.

Outside groups have sunk millions in 4th District races in the past, mainly by conservative groups who had hoped to oust then-Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson and prop up Love.

This year's race between Love and McAdams appears to be a nail-biter.

A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll recently found the race for the 4th Congressional District a dead heat with each grabbing 46 percent of voters and 8 percent undecided. The Cook Political Report, a political handicapper, calls the race a “toss up” after moving it from a previous rating as “lean Republican.”

The DCCC, the Democrat's House campaign arm, is spending millions across the country trying to win back the chamber. A spokesman for the group says McAdams is a solid candidate and the DCCC wants to have his back.

"Ben McAdams is a game-changing candidate – he puts this seat in play,” said DCCC spokesman Andrew Godinich. “No question at all about that."

Republicans hold a 42-seat majority in the House but are defending a large number of GOP-leaning seats in the midterm election. Political forecasters say Republicans are likely to lose a slew of seats and, possibly, control of the chamber.

FiveThirtyEight, a date-driven analysis outlet, says Democrats have an 83 percent chance of winning the House.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is backed by GOP leaders, did not respond to questions about its Utah ad buys but noted in a news release recently that its ad against McAdams “contrasts Mia Love’s efforts to rein in government spending and lower taxes” with McAdams spending in Salt Lake County.

Neither the Love nor McAdams campaign can tell the outside groups what to say or how much to spend and both camps say they’re focused on their own messages to voters.

“We just have to deal with it,” says Love campaign manager Dave Hansen. “Obviously we can't coordinate with them or their messages or anything like that.”

He called the Patriot Majority USA ads “over-the-top false” but praised the Congressional Leadership Fund spots as fair in showing a contrast between the candidates.

McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said his team isn't paying attention to the outside ads other than monitoring what they say.

“The mayor has run a strong campaign up to this point and has been able to make his case to the voters without their help,” Roberts said.