The air war in Utah’s 4th Congressional District is on. Two outside groups launched an ad blitz this week, with a third group set to hit the airwaves next week.
The House Majority PAC, which is linked to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was first out of the gate with a brutal ad slamming Republican nominee Burgess Owens for declaring bankruptcy six times and having unpaid taxes.
“The House of Representatives controls the ‘power of the purse,’ but if Burgess Owens can’t manage his own finances, he certainly shouldn’t be managing the country’s,” said Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of House Majority PAC in a news release.
On Wednesday, the Congressional Leadership Fund PAC, which is affiliated with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, hit the airwaves with a positive ad highlighting Owens' background, leaning heavily on his time in the NFL and his work with troubled youth. The spot is supported by nearly $1 million in ad reservations in September alone.
McCarthy was in Salt Lake City last week to campaign and raise money for Owens. Axios reported President Donald Trump called into the fundraiser in support of the Utah candidate.
“Burgess Owens' story is one that should inspire us all — because it’s Utah’s story,” said CLF Communications Director Calvin Moore in an email statement.
Neither the McAdams nor Owens campaign responded to a request for comment. But the negative ad may not have escaped Owens' attention. He tweeted a vague condemnation of dirty campaign tactics Wednesday.
If someone is willing to roll in the mud to get elected, they probably shouldn't be in office.
Owens entered the general election race with a paucity of campaign cash following his win in the four-way GOP primary. McAdams reported a 29-1 cash advantage over Owens in the latest disclosure reports from July. These positive-themed ads from the Congressional Leadership Fund will likely help Owens' raise money.
Next week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, is set to begin airing ads in the district. The group has reserved $595,000 in broadcast and cable television time for the month of September.
The two new ads are attempting to define Burgess Owens in the minds of voters ahead of the November election, with the Democrats working to play up the negative parts of his record and the Republicans seeking to paint a more positive picture.
Traditionally, candidates like to take the high road in their ads, while letting outside groups do the dirty work of negative advertising. The positive-toned ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund suggests that Owens may need some help in that department. Owens' campaign hasn’t hit the airwaves yet but has reserved about $45,000 on broadcast stations this month. His campaign is also using a one-time mechanism that allows candidates to partner with a super PAC on a television ad buy. Those commercials are also set to air this month.
McAdams began his own advertising efforts in August and has reserved a total of $1.7 million in ad time through November.
The battle to define Owens could go a long way toward deciding whether he is able to unseat the first-term Democrat in November. If Democrats can cement those negative images in the minds of voters, it may sway enough people for McAdams to hang on to the seat in this heavily Republican district. McAdams won in 2018 by fewer than 700 votes. If the positive message takes hold, then Owens could reap the benefits at the ballot box.