- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - During the first joint appearance of Utah’s candidates for the 4th Congressional District on Tuesday, Democrat Doug Owens hammered Republican Mia Love for her support of U.S. Sen Mike Lee and portrayed her positions as extreme.

Love, the front-runner in Utah’s most closely watched race this year, used the quasi-debate at the annual conference of the Utah Taxpayers Association to point to her time as mayor of Saratoga Springs and decry federal overreach and the policies of President Barack Obama’s administration.

The candidates were responding to tax-related questions they received in advance of the conference. But at times they responded to each other’s statements during the hour-long event.

After Owens repeatedly referred to Love’s positions, Love joked that she wanted to thank him for bringing up her name so frequently. Twice, when he gave answers about Love, she interjected with: “Wrong.”

“There is not one thing that he said that’s true,” Love said at one point in the debate. “I’m interested in attacking problems, not people.”

Owens in particular attacked Love’s support of Lee, who helped lead a fight last fall that precipitated the 16-day partial government shutdown over opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care law.

He noted that Love attended a rally Lee held in November, weeks after the end of the shutdown. “Mia Love’s reaction was to applaud the shutdown, literally, and rally for Sen. Lee,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after the event, Love said Owens was putting words in her mouth.

She said the shutdown wasn’t a good thing because it didn’t stop the health care law, but that she would have voted as the rest of Utah’s delegation did on the bills leading up to the shutdown. Last fall, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson joined Utah’s Republican representatives in the House to support the GOP budget bills that attempted to stop the health law.

Both candidates on Tuesday spoke of wanting to work across party lines and agreed on a need to simplify the country’s tax laws and lower corporate tax rates.

With neither candidate facing a primary election this year, their eyes are on the general election more than five months away.

Love is outflanking Owens in name recognition and campaign cash.

Two years ago, she lost by less than 800 votes when she challenged Matheson, who has now served seven terms.

With Matheson not seeking re-election this year, Love has been elevated to be the clear favorite in the Republican-leaning district, which covers some Salt Lake City suburbs south to Sanpete County.

Owens, a Salt Lake City attorney, is new to politics as a candidate. But he’s also the son of the late Democratic U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens, who represented Utah in Congress from 1973 to 1975 and again from 1987 to 1993.

Utah political observers say some of his father’s experience and lessons may have rubbed off Owens, but it’s unclear if it will be a match for Love.

After experiencing a full congressional campaign in 2012, Love has had prominent national speaking engagements and about a year’s head start on the 2014 race.

According to her most recent fundraising reports, she brought in more than $466,000 from Jan. 1 to April 6 of this year and had about $632,000 on hand.

Owens brought in nearly $133,000 during that same period and, after spending some of the money, had about $118,000 on hand.

If Love wins, she would become the first black female Republican elected to Congress in U.S. history. Her victory would also deliver to Republicans the only Utah congressional seat not currently in GOP hands.


Follow Michelle Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice .

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