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Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams running for Congress

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat, announced Wednesday he will challenge Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, in next year's 4th Congressional District election.

"I love being Salt Lake County mayor, and I have gotten great things done," McAdams told the Deseret News.

But he's tired of hitting what he called federal roadblocks on issues like health care and transportation funding.

"On the issues I'm focusing on that are in Salt Lake County and really throughout the Salt Lake metro area, we don't have somebody who is rolling up their sleeves and understanding our challenges and then working to bring solutions," McAdams said.

The mayor said he has a record of working with Republicans on issues, including a compromise on Medicaid expansion that would bring health care services to several thousand of the most needy Utahns, many of whom are homeless.

But that plan is still waiting for federal approval. McAdams, who had backed GOP Gov. Gary Herbert's more expansive Healthy Utah plan to extend health care subsidies to Utahns, said in the meantime, people are suffering.

The same is true of Utahns who are dealing with the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Affordable Care Act, he said, the subject of a series of failed repeal and replace attempts by the GOP-controlled Congress.

"That's easy for people from both parties to play games with. But as mayor, I see those people. They have names to me. I see them. They're real people who need help and that uncertainty is scary to them," he said.

McAdams said he would be able to work across the aisle in Congress to begin moving forward on that and other issues, including more federal support for transportation needs in a fast-growing metro area.

"That's a question I asked myself early on: Can I make a difference? And ultimately, Washington right now is broken. But I'm not willing to accept that it is forever broken. I think there is a lot that can be done," he said.

On Sept. 30, McAdams said he was "seriously considering" a run for Congress in the 4th District because he had been encouraged by many Utahns. Most of the district is within Salt Lake County's west side.

Because McAdams isn't up for re-election until 2020, he will remain county mayor if he doesn't win the congressional race. He was elected mayor in 2012 after serving in the Utah Senate since being appointed in 2009.

Love lost her first bid for the seat in 2012 to then-incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, the last Democratic member of Utah's congressional delegation. After Matheson retired, Love went on to beat Democrat Doug Owens in 2014 and again in 2016.

Her campaign has already reacted to the possibility of McAdams' run, sending out a fundraising letter earlier this month labeling the mayor the "perfect pick to fight for Nancy's radical agenda," a reference to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The letter said McAdams doesn't live in the 4th District, although that is not a requirement for running. He lives in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City.

McAdams said Utah voters don't like negative campaigning.

"I like Mia Love. I think she's a nice person," he said. "This is about competing visions for the district."

Dave Hansen, political adviser and the congresswoman's campaign director the past two election cycles, said Love has "spent many hours listening to those she represents and has been a force for change and accomplishment in the House of Representatives."

"That is where her focus is and should be right now — fulfilling her responsibilities as a member of Congress," Hansen said.

"Mia never takes elections for granted, and when the appropriate time for campaigning begins, she will be fully prepared and fully engaged in the campaign, whoever her Democrat opponent may be," he said.

McAdams has been a popular mayor, winning re-election last year with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He made national news this summer when he revealed he'd spent a night in a homeless shelter and another on the street in March to better understand the issues surrounding Salt Lake City's troubled Rio Grande area.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said it won't be easy for a Democrat to take on a Republican incumbent, but McAdams at least has a chance.

"I think he's in about as strong a position as a Democrat can be in the sense he has pretty good name recognition. He has established himself" with voters, as well as with his party, Burbank said.

But the professor said McAdams has not had to handle the kind of tough race he'll likely face against Love in a district that also includes portions of Utah, Sanpete and Juab counties.

"It remains to be seen," Burbank said, whether McAdams is up for the task.

McAdams, who formally filed as a candidate Wednesday, said he's already been assured of support from both Republicans and Democrats.

"I'm not starting from ground zero. People know me, and people know the job I've done," he said. "I think people know me as a centrist, not somebody who is tied to a party line."