Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Independent Senate candidate Evan McMullin is taking issue with a conservative political action committee's attack ad that he says was deceptively pieced together to make it sound like he called Republicans racist.
McMullin said the Club for Growth spot that began airing on local television stations this week deliberately edited his words to "deceive and divide our state in order to protect Sen. Lee and save his failing campaign."
GOP incumbent Sen. Mike Lee and McMullin are engaged in a nasty, heated race for U.S. Senate. A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows the two candidates running neck and neck.
Club for Growth's 30-second ad features three women looking at a video clip on a laptop in which McMullin says, "The Republican base is racist ... these bigots." The women cringe and then comment about the remark, including one who says what McMullin said "doesn't feel kind" and another who calls him a "charlatan."
The clip comes from an Aug. 12, 2017, appearance McMullin made on CNN with five other guests talking about Republicans' response to deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. An attack on peaceful counterprotesters left one person dead.
On CNN, McMullin said most Republicans tend not to speak out against racism because they're attacked by some within the party for doing so.
"Not all Republicans, of course, are racist. ... But there is an element of the Republican base that is racist," McMullin said in the segment.
"And we need leaders, especially on the Republican and the conservative side these days, who serve the country, and serving the country means standing up to these bigots. This country was built on equality and liberty and we need all of our leaders to stand ...."
McMullin used the word "bigots" in reference to the white supremacists and other racist groups.
"Clearly, they have doctored this video," said Andrew Roberts, McMullin campaign manager.
Roberts said the ad "deletes and splices" words in the 5-year-old interview that McMullin "never said and would never say."
McMullin said he is "indignant" about the ad, calling it false and a lie. He called on Lee to condemn it and demand that it be taken down.
"If Mike Lee won't do that, then he bears direct responsibility for the ad as well," he said.
The Lee campaign declined to comment.
Federal law prohibits political campaigns from coordinating with PACs such as Club for Growth. The Washington-based super PAC did not respond to an email request for comment Thursday.
The Club for Growth is poised to spend at least $2.5 million in television ads in Utah. It noted in a press release after Lee won the GOP primary in June that Club for Growth members contributed $190,485 to Lee's campaign through its PAC.
The McMullin campaign identified one of the women in the ad as Lynda Cox, president of the Professional Republican Women of Utah.
Contacted via text message Thursday, Cox said, "I stand by my comments in the Club for Growth ad."
In the ad, Cox says, "To me, Evan McMullin is a charlatan. He's trying to play that middle and be independent," using air quotes with the word "independent."
The McMullin campaign has also asked Utah television stations to remove the spot.
After the deadly Charlottesville riot, then-President Donald Trump insisted "there is blame on both sides."
Lee was among Republicans who criticized Trump over his comments.
"Carrying a Nazi flag or any other symbol of white supremacy is a hateful act that cannot be morally defended, least of all by the leader of a diverse nation still healing from its original sin of racist slavery," Lee posted on Facebook.
"Racists may have a constitutional right to express their repugnant ideas. But the rest of us have a duty to affirm and defend the values — the moral, political and religious values — that have helped Americans overcome violent racism at home and abroad, in war and in peace, for generations."