Mia Love and Ben McAdams were pals before the close election contest that has them bashing each other

Their families were friends for years, going to movies, dinners and sporting events together. Then they ignored the proverb that friends should never talk about religion or politics, and politics blasted apart their relationship.

GOP Rep. Mia Love and her Democratic challenger, Ben McAdams, aren’t behaving like buddies anymore. They’re too busy hammering away at each other in a nasty campaign for Utah’s 4th Congressional District seat.

Despite that, McAdams, the Salt Lake County mayor, still says, “I consider Representative Love a friend.”

The feeling is not mutual.

Love says his choice to run against her “feels like a betrayal,” and “my friends don’t lie about me” — as she says he does. She openly wonders whether McAdams pushed the friendship only to help keep tabs on her and her plans.

They have talked little publicly about their now apparently former friendship. Love says it started after she had expressed sorrow to McAdams after his mother died.

Jason and Mia Love with their children. Courtesy: Love family

“Then, we would see each other at events from time to time. I think it was him who said our families should get together and go to a movie or something," she says. “He was pushing the friendship and to hang out with our family. It lasted for several years.”

Love says that as the families spent time together, they sometimes talked about political plans. “McAdams had always mentioned that if he ever ran for Congress, he would run in the 2nd District,” where he lives just over the border from the 4th District, where Love lives and serves.

“Every single time we would talk about it, he would say, ‘No, no, no. I’m a Davis County boy,” because he was raised there, and would run in the 2nd District because it includes much of that county.

She says the week before McAdams finally indicated publicly that he would run against her, their families went to a Real Salt Lake soccer game.

“I remember it was a cold day, and I wrapped his son in a blanket,” she says. “He said, ‘I’m getting a lot of pressure to run.’ And I said, ‘OK, what are you thinking of doing? Do you think you’re going to run for the Senate? What do you think you’re going to do?’ He said, ‘If I run for Congress, I wouldn’t run against you.'"

A week later, it was all over the news that McAdams had decided to run against her, and she called him.

“He always had answered our phone calls, and then he stopped answering," she says. “That’s where the betrayal came from.”

McAdams says his decision to run was separate from their friendship.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ben McAdams and his family celebrate just after it was announced that he had won his race at the Democratic convention, Saturday, April 28, 2018. McAdams' son Isaac McAdams raises his fist in victory as James and Julie McAdams react.

“This isn’t personal. This is about what’s best for Utah,” he says. “I think she is a great person and has a great family.”

Still, he adds, “I looked at her votes and her decisions, and I think she’s done harm to the people in Utah, and it’s frustrating to me.” He says he believed Washington had changed Love and that she started to vote to support special-interest donors. Also, he pointed to her record of voting 97.5 percent of the time to support President Donald Trump.

She is “voting for an agenda that sometimes is good for us but oftentimes isn’t good for us," he said. "It doesn’t change the fact that elections aren’t personal, and they shouldn’t be personal. They should be about who is the best person for the state.”

Love says she’s still baffled about what happened.

“I don’t know what changed within a week,” she says. “I don’t know where my votes were that were so egregious compared to [2nd District Rep.] Chris Stewart that he felt he had to jump out of his district and run in my district.”

She adds, “All of a sudden, he changed his mind. Or maybe he didn’t change his mind. My guess is he was planning this all along and just didn’t tell us the truth.”

So she says they are no longer friends, because her friends “don’t lie about me. If he will do that to his friends, I wonder what he would do to his enemies. I don’t have friends who are not honest.”

Now, of course, the two former friends are filling the airwaves and mailboxes with attack ads charging that their opponent can’t be trusted, and questioning their integrity and values.

It reached a point this week that Love angrily called for McAdams to drop out of the race because he is “unethical” for fanning flames over questions about whether she illegally raised $1 million for a primary race that she never faced (possibly allowing donors to get around federal limits).

She says that shows he “is willing to try and destroy totally a fellow Utahn for political gain.”

She added in a radio appearance, “He is showing who he is. He is following the liberal strategies and politics of personal destruction that we have seen in Washington.”

During their one and only debate, she charged that McAdams’ attacks are “typical, unfounded scare tactics that we see used over and over again by national Democrats.”

Meanwhile, McAdams has had tough words of his own for his “friend.”

“Representative Love is absent” from the large Salt Lake County portion of the district, he said during the debate. She lives in Utah County.

McAdams continually attacks what he says are her ties to outside special interests and Trump.

“We are seeing a partisan agenda being forwarded by Representative Love to the detriment of the people of Utah. I want people to see that I am somebody who will put Utah first,” McAdams also said in the debate.

He added in a recent interview, “Love has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the petroleum industry [$179,000 in her career, according to opensecrets.org] and then votes to lift protections against air pollution. … She doesn’t have our interests at heart.”

Perhaps their statements prove a quote attributed to the late President Harry S. Truman: “You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”