Attack ads flood the airwaves in Utah’s hotly contested 4th District race

(YouTube) Screengrab from an ad from the Republican super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund

The air war in Utah’s 4th Congressional District got nastier this week with two new negative ads from outside groups.

On Wednesday, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC with ties to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, dropped an ad blasting Rep. Ben McAdams for “voting with Nancy Pelosi 85% of the time.” The spot also hits McAdams for raising taxes while he was Salt Lake County mayor and for supporting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

One day earlier, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, began airing an ad slamming Republican Burgess Owens for filing for bankruptcy six times and for taxes owed to the IRS.

The ads are part of a blizzard of spending by outside groups and the candidates themselves that is now on pace to reach, or even exceed, $8 million by the time Election Day rolls around, a sign of just how competitive the parties believe this race to be.

A third outside group, the House Majority PAC that is connected to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, began airing ads attacking Owens earlier this month while a fourth group, the National Republican Congressional Committee, is set to enter the fray with a nearly $1 million ad buy in October alone.

Owens' campaign was cash poor entering the general election matchup with McAdams, reporting just $90,000 on hand following his win in the four-way GOP primary. Following his primetime speech at the Republican National Convention and an in-person fundraiser hosted by McCarthy, those cash flow troubles seemingly have ended. Owens has booked just over $500,000 in television ad time in September and October. In late August, he had only scheduled about $45,000 in television ads.

Owens' first television ad counters the Democratic-funded commercials attacking him over declaring bankruptcy.

“Even with faith and family, success wasn’t easy. I went bankrupt,” he says to the camera. “The American promise, even today, is you can take a risk, fail, learn, and come back and succeed.” Owens addressing the bankruptcy issue in a campaign ad shows he believes it’s a potent issue that could hurt him with voters, and he had to address it.

While the tone of his ad is more genteel, another set of commercials that are part of a coordinated campaign with the NRCC accuses Democrats of wanting to cut funding for police. The NRCC-Owens' ads are much darker, featuring images of civil unrest following protests for racial justice from this past summer.

McAdams also hit the airwaves Thursday with a new ad discussing his experience fighting through and recovering from the coronavirus, followed by a call for improving health insurance.

Advertising spending in the race has reached nearly $3.5 million for September alone according to figures provided by Advertising Analytics. That number jumps to more than $4 million in October, but expect that figure to rise.

The race is considered to be a “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, even though the district is overwhelmingly Republican. On Wednesday the Utah Debate Commission released a poll that gave McAdams a lead of nearly 11 points over Owens, while past polls have shown a much tighter contest.