SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, and Burgess Owens, his Republican challenger in one of the country’s most competitive congressional races, met on the debate stage Monday evening for the first — and last — time before the election.

“This is likely to be the closest race in Utah this year, so it’s a debate worth following,” said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Brigham Young University Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. “I will be watching for how the two candidates define themselves and each other.”

The 4th Congressional District candidates were questioned by Deseret News Editor Doug Wilks in the hourlong Utah Debate Commission debate that started at 6 p.m. and was broadcast by local TV stations, including KSL-TV, and livestreamed on deseret.com.

The race between McAdams and Owens, a former NFL player, author and frequent Fox News guest, has been rated a “toss-up” since August by the Cook Report, an independent and nonpartisan online publication based in Washington, D.C., that analyzes key political races around the country.

The 4th District, which includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties, has been a battleground since Utah gained the additional seat a decade ago. In 2018, McAdams, then the Salt Lake County mayor, defeated two-term Republican Rep. Mia Love by less than 700 votes.

Money has poured into Utah from Republican and Democratic groups for largely negative TV commercials, and both candidates are also on the airwaves. McAdams reported a significant financial advantage in the most recent Federal Election Commission disclosure, with more than $2.6 million to less than $93,000 for Owens as of June 30.

Before getting on the November ballot, Owens had to win a hard-fought primary in June against three opponents, state Rep. Kim Coleman, former KSL Newsradio host Jay Mcfarland and nonprofit CEO Trent Christensen. Since then, he has held fundraisers with big names in the GOP, including Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son.

McAdams and Owens have participated in a candidate forum sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber and are scheduled to do the same at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics Wednesday. Monday’s debate, however, will be the only one between the candidates.

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Karpowitz said he expects McAdams to “emphasize his moderate positions on many issues” while portraying Owens as “too extreme and too supportive” of President Donald Trump and pointing out they have disagreed on the president’s proposal to resume nuclear weapons testing.

Owens is likely to focus on “his conservatism and his compelling life story,” as a Black man who grew up in the segregated South, Karpowitz said. “I expect that his experience as a commentator on Fox News will be helpful preparation for the debate, too.”

McAdams said in a statement that he looks “forward to the opportunity to talk directly to Utahns about important issues such as preventing them from losing health care due to a preexisting condition, keeping our children safe online, and stopping plans to resume dangerous, unnecessary explosive nuclear weapons testing in our backyard.”

Owens’ spokesman, Jesse Raney, said the debate on “Monday night will be an excellent opportunity for Utah voters to hear directly from Burgess about his vision for the district, his message of unity and a better future for our families.”

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