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Peter Cooke's gubernatorial campaign believes it must have hit a nerve when it dinged Gov. Gary Herbert in a recent television ad over a bid scandal involving the reconstruction of Interstate 15 through Utah County.

Cooke's campaign manager, Mary Bishop, said her counterpart on the Herbert campaign, Scott Ericson, called to complain about Cooke using the bid in ads the Cooke campaign recently started airing, saying Cooke had committed to not bring up the scandal.

Bishop said there was no such deal.

"In fact, it is part of the governor's record that is, and should be, fair game in this campaign," she said. "It shows a pattern of mismanagement and poor leadership that Utahns have a right to know about."

Herbert was hammered during his 2010 campaign over a $1.1 billion contract to rebuild I-15 in Utah County that Utah Department of Transportation executives reversed, awarding it to a major Herbert donor. The state then paid $13 million to avoid threatened litigation with the losing bidder.

Herbert still won the 2010 election in a landslide.

Audits revealed flaws in the contracting process and the settlement, and legislation was passed to prevent future settlements of that size without legislative approval.

This time through, Cooke has made references to the UDOT scandal, as well as malfeasance at the state's liquor control agency and a computer breach at the Health Department that compromised information of hundreds of thousands of clients.

"The governor is offended by the negative tone recently adopted by the Cooke campaign and believes Utahns benefit when candidates run on their record and vision and not on negative attacks," said Herbert campaign spokesman Marty Carpenter.

Herbert said Friday that in an organization as large as Utah's state government, problems arise. "The good news for the public is, when we've found them and discovered them, we've taken steps to fix them," he said.

A poll by graduate students at Utah State University found Herbert leading Cooke 76 percent to 17 percent, although the poll had a small sample size and a large margin of error.

Cooke also said on Thursday that, if he is elected, he would veto proposed legislation that would spend state money to create a course to teach parents how to talk to their children about sex.

"The proposed bill is a way to slowly but surely undermine the sex education program in schools and to eventually remove sex education from school curriculum altogether," he said. "It will also cost money that could be better spent elsewhere, such as on preschool and early childhood education or on closing the $2.2 billion deficit between Utah and the national per-pupil average."

Twitter: @RobertGehrke