SALT LAKE CITY — Outside interest groups have spent more than $3.6 million in Utah’s most hotly contested campaign: the congressional race between Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson and Republican Mia Love.
The spending is almost exclusively on television advertising since mid-August, when the race in a remapped district that covers central Utah began heating up, according to Federal Election Commission figures.
Love, who was mayor of Saratoga Springs for three years, was given a coveted speaking role at the Republican National Convention in August and has been getting fundraising help from GOP standard-bearers, including Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Matheson, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, has survived in the Republican-dominated state by cultivating a right-of-center voting record. The six-term veteran has benefited from about $1.8 million in spending on attack ads by groups ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
His largest outside supporter is Center Forward, a bipartisan group that has supported moderate Democrats and Republicans. The group has spent nearly $800,000 in TV ads opposing Love.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, Love’s largest benefactor, has spent more than $1.3 million alone attacking Matheson.
The $3.6 million "is an awful lot of money for a state this size," University of Utah professor Matthew Burbank said Monday. "We have seen more external money in this race than any congressional race in recent years."
A daughter of Haitian immigrants, Love could become the first black woman elected to Congress as a Republican. Her major obstacle is a lack of name recognition in the 4th District, Burbank said.
Matheson has attacked her as extreme and inexperienced, a strategy also evident in ads from outside groups, Burbank said.
Love has emphasized fiscal discipline and personal responsibility and has attempted to paint Matheson as an Obama loyalist. One attack ad says Matheson voted to raise the national debt limit, but calls it "Obama’s debt limit."
"She’s trying to make the argument that Matheson is representing national Democrats or is different in Washington than he is back home," Burbank said.
Matheson has been reminding voters of his values and his family pedigree — he’s the son of a popular former governor. One TV commercial shows him sharing a kitchen table with his mother.
Both candidates have until midnight Monday to file quarterly campaign finance reports, which are expected to show even more money at play in the campaign’s final weeks.