Up until Wednesday night, most Utahns, and 4th District voters on the west sides of Salt Lake and Utah counties, got their impressions of the pair through dozens of hard-hitting TV ads paid for . . . well, paid for by about every special interest and partisan group in the nation.
But last night for the first time the pair debated in a 25-minute or so hectic “Main Street” forum live on KUTV Channel 2.
I don’t believe there was a clear winner or loser.
But, as is often the case, the challenger – in this case Love – at times reverted to broad statements while the incumbent – Matheson – seemed more prepared for specific answers.
Several times when Love tried to move off-topic and talk about her support of Mitt Romney, and Matheson’s support of President Barack Obama, moderator Rod Decker – an old hand at these kinds of things – interrupted her, trying to get a more specific answer.
Love did stumble over her words a few times and her train of thought seemed to waiver.
But she didn’t make any critical errors.
Yes, when asked why she “supported” doing away with Pell grants and other college loan programs run by the federal government, her answers of turning over such work to the “free market” didn’t ring logical.
And Matheson jumped on that specifically.
“I don’t understand her answer,” said Matheson. Utah’s local business community, along with Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, by 2020 want two-thirds of adult Utahns to have some kind of post-high school degree.
“No one but Mia Love advocates we get rid of federal student loans,” he said.
Love countered: “He doesn’t understand because he just wants more spending on the federal level.”
Love is just throwing out “platitudes and it’s not true,” Matheson said. “If you want your kids to go to college, this (federal loans and grants) is their opportunity.”
Several times Love had to defend her early campaign federal budget-cutting plan, given to GOP state 4th District delegates.
Love said she had the courage to at least put something out there to start the deficit and budget cutting discussion, while most other candidates just talk around those fiscal issues.
Cutting Department of Justice funds to buy local cops life-saving vests? Asked Matheson.
Keep those tax dollars on the local level and you will ensure that police departments better take care of their officers’ needs and reduce crime, said Love.
Matheson said he likes the “framework” that the Simpson/Bowles commission put together to balance the federal budget and reduce deficits. That includes lowering the personal and corporate income tax rates, but closing some loopholes.
Name one loophole? Cut the sugar subsidy, said Matheson.
But he went on to say that when loopholes are closed, yes, some sectors will pay more, and there will be winners and losers in that process.
That is exactly what is wrong with Matheson and Congress, said Love. “The government has no place in deciding winners and losers. The free market has, and always will, be a better judge of (economic) winners and losers.”
Several times Matheson said Love doesn’t understand how Congress works day to day and doesn’t understand a number of his votes, including votes against Obamacare.
Love said Matheson’s criticisms of budget and tax policies in Saratoga Springs, where she served as a council member and is now the mayor, shows “he has no idea how to deal with cities.”
“But,” charged Matheson, “I think your residents should wonder why their taxes are (at least) 15% higher than surrounding cities” in northern Utah County.
Saratoga Springs has a high bond rating, has used its local taxes in appropriate ways, said Love.
She and the city council have cut spending while increasing services and keeping up with growth.
“Saratoga Springs is not the problem. Washington is,” she said.
Finally, part of Love’s early budget-cutting proposals includes reducing by half, says Matheson, the earned income tax credit.
Former President Ronald Reagan, the darling of Republicans, said increasing that credit under his administration was one of the best things America ever did for working folks, said Matheson. Yet Love wants to cut it.
Love said she believes it is wrong that so many Americans don’t pay any federal income tax. “We all need some skin in the game. We are all Americans. And we should all pay something into this country.”
Matheson got a zinger in here, saying that most people who take the earned income tax credit are working and paying taxes.
“George W. Bush worked, and I helped him, expand this – and her proposal would raise taxes on working people,” he said.
Matheson and Love will meet in two other debates coming up soon. The two debate on KSL TV tonight at 6:00 pm and on Saturday at 5:00 pm on channel 4.
Those meetings may have different formats, allowing more time per answer and further opportunities for either candidate to win points against the other.
Finally, while not probably specifically intended, in the newscasts of the three commercial TV stations preceding the KUTV debate ran ads harshly criticizing, or defending, Matheson and Love – just a reminder where this close election likely will really be fought.