A group calling itself "Conservatives for Claudia Wright" is ostensibly backing the Democratic primary challenger to Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and directing viewers to a site to donate to her campaign.
The kicker? The website name is jimmatheson.com.
Turns out neither Democratic campaign claims any knowledge of the site's backers, and Matheson's calls it "mischief."
"It's obviously the work of either Republicans who want to find a way to interfere with the Democratic primary and get the opponent they want to run against -- which is not Jim Matheson -- or it's Claudia Wright," said Matheson spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend.
The site has appeared after a week in which some Republicans suggested changing party registration to unaffiliated so they can vote in the June 22 Democratic primary and elevate Wright, because they consider her too liberal to win the general election against GOP nominee Morgan Philpot.
In addition to encouraging Democrats and independents to vote for Wright, the website also urges Republicans to "register as an unaffiliated voter and vote in the Democrat open primary on June 22. You must re-register 30 days before the election and you will not be able to vote in the GOP primary. But, between [U.S. Senate candidates] Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater you're going to have good representation. The difference between Matheson and Wright is greater and more important."
Philpot has disavowed any campaign to prod Republicans to cross over and vote in the other party's primary.
Wright campaign manager Mike Picardi said he first learned of the website on Monday morning, and the campaign was not behind it. If it is a hoax, he said, it's a convincing one because it only has good things to say about Wright.
For instance, the site's author or authors talk of Republicans feeling disenfranchised by Matheson's representation and expecting Wright to vote on principle instead of out of electoral considerations.
"If I can't have a conservative in the 2nd Congressional District," the site says, "I'd rather have someone who has some integrity behind their votes. I may disagree with some of Ms. Wright's positions but at least I can respect them."
Wright's campaign was born of the same frustration, in part because of Matheson's vote against health care reform. And while she is generally viewed as a challenger from the left, she has repeatedly said she expects some Republicans who are turned off by "tea party" rhetoric to join her.
"It may very well be some conservative Republicans or moderates out there who put this up to say that they want Claudia and not Jim," Picardi said.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland, though, says "nobody in politics thinks Claudia Wright is going after conservatives." While he said he has no information about who's behind it, Holland added, "it appears to be some monkey business."
The website asks people to donate to Wright's campaign through ActBlue, an online Democratic fundraising mechanism that handles administrative and Internet security costs for candidates and then sends them a check. As of Monday, Wright had raised $14,620 from 166 donors through ActBlue, though that counts about $11,000 that Picardi said the campaign had spent. Matheson had raised $150 from three ActBlue donors, a figure that Heyrend said is low because the congressman does not direct contributors from his campaign website to ActBlue, but uses his own fundraising network.
Heyrend found it curious that the "Conservatives for Claudia Wright" site uses "jimmatheson" as its Web address. She said Matheson's campaign had previously looked into using that Web address but found that someone else had purchased it.
An e-mail to the website's administrator seeking information about who is behind it was returned with a no-comment response.
"We're not responding to media requests," the e-mail said. "The story is about Claudia Wright and her dedication to the Democrat platform, her qualifications as a teacher and grassroots activist."
The site, like the e-mail, refers to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat" party, a truncated name that some consider a slur by Republican opponents. It calls Matheson "lukewarm" and urges viewers to vote for a "real" Democrat.
"The Bible tells us, 'So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue (sic) thee out of my mouth,' " the website says. "In this race we have an opportunity to make a choice between someone who is unashamedly Democrat and someone who is lukewarm."
Conservatives for Wright
A new website encourages support for Claudia Wright, soliciting votes and donations from Democrats, independents and Republicans. The people behind the effort want to remain anonymous and claim to have no affiliation with any other campaign.