SALT LAKE CITY — A new TV commercial targeting Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, for backing the ongoing House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump is set to begin airing in the state Tuesday.
The commercial labels the hearings underway “a politically motivated charade,” using images of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and footage of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talking about “preventing a potentially disastrous outcome” in the 2020 election.
“Ben McAdams promised to be different. But he’s not,” a narrator says.
Utahns are urged in the commercial to call McAdams and tell him, “Let the voters decide elections. Vote ‘no' on impeachment and get to work,” citing the need to secure the nation’s borders, fix health care and pass the administration’s trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
The conservative American Action Network that’s tied to the GOP’s Congressional Leadership Fund is spending about $240,000 to run the 30-second spots in Utah on all four major broadcast channels through the first week of December, along with about $50,000 on digital advertising.
The spending is part of a $7 million national TV and digital ad campaign focused on 20 members of Congress from Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.
The TV commercials are apparently the first to run in Utah’s 2020 4th District race, although there have already been digital ads aimed at McAdams, and Trump’s reelection campaign held a rally outside the congressman’s West Jordan office, where opponents of the president outnumbered his supporters.
McAdams’ campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, downplayed the impact of the commercials.
“He’ll make his decision with Utah in mind and no amount of spending from a Washington, D.C., special interest group from either party is going to change that,” Roberts said, noting there are some digital ads running telling McAdams to vote for impeaching the president. “He’s waiting for this process to play out.”
When it comes to the impeachment proceedings, Roberts said McAdams is “not on the committee and he’s not glued to the edge of his seat. He’s focusing on other issues,” including the national debt and prescription drug costs. “I don’t see it changing our message to voters at all.”
American Action President Dan Conston said in a statement that “the left has admitted time and time again that impeachment isn’t about the facts, it’s about damaging President Trump for their political ends. But in America, voters should decide elections for themselves.”
Voters may not be paying much attention to an election that’s still nearly a year away, University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said.
“In terms of influencing voters, it’s not going to be terribly effective, simply because this is way to early for voters to be worried about making that vote choice,” Burbank said. “The primary goal here is to send a message to McAdams, ‘We’re targeting your race. Here’s what’s going to happen.’”
He said the commercials are being run against Democrats in Utah and other states who are seen as at risk of losing their seats in the hopes some will vote against sending articles of impeachment to the Senate, underscoring their argument that the process is purely political, driven by “the most liberal and extreme of the Democrats.”
Comparing a more moderate Democrat like McAdams to Pelosi, Schiff or Ocasio-Cortez, a leader in the House of the party’s progressive wing, is a script Burbank expects conservative organizations to come back to again and again in the race. He said it’s “a little bit surprising” so much money is being spent so soon.
McAdams is viewed as one of the country’s most vulnerable Democrats in Congress in the 2020 election. Last year he won the 4th District seat that includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties by less than 700 votes, defeating two-term Rep. Mia Love in a costly and contentious race.
Roberts said McAdams likely won’t begin campaigning for reelection until next year, although a number of Republicans are either already in the race or expected to announce they’re running. “The campaign will ramp up when it needs to ramp up,” he said.
Among the GOP candidates are Utah Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem; former KSL NewsRadio host Jay Mcfarland; Utah Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan; former Utah GOP communications director Kathleen Anderson; former NFL player Burgess Owens; and Spanish Fork nurse practitioner Chris Biesinger.
Anderson, the first Republican to launch a bid for the 4th District, said she supports the message of the TV commercial “for the simple reason that we haven’t seen anything so far that would have supported the impeachment inquiry.” She said she’s not sure what kind of impact it will have on voters, however.
“Honestly, I think in the eyes of a lot of Americans, and especially voters in Utah, it’s become a case of the boy who cried wolf ... or even Chicken Little. The sky is always falling,” Anderson said. “I don’t know how many people are in that middle ground anymore.”
The most recent Republican to get in the race, Owens, said, “It will be interesting to see what Congressman McAdams does. He ran on a promise to take Utah values to D.C., but so far has voted with D.C. values 89% of the time,” a reference to how often he votes with Pelosi.
Coleman, who has not formally announced she’s running but is raising money, zeroed in on the tone of the commercial.
“That’s probably not the style we prefer here in Utah, but the substance is spot on,” she said. “McAdams promised he would be different — this shows he’s not.”
Biesinger also called the commercial “spot on. It is time that Congress started working for the American people.” He said that instead of focusing on issues, “Democrats like McAdams are focused on partisan witch hunts and grandstanding for campaigns. They need to get to the point or get back to work.”