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McAdams’ lead over Owens tightens in new Utah 4th Congressional District results

Vote count continues to be updated

Lannie Chapman, Salt Lake County chief deputy clerk, and Carson Adams, Salt Lake County election coordinator, load ballots onto an Agilis ballot packet sorting system at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.
Lannie Chapman, Salt Lake County chief deputy clerk, and Carson Adams, Salt Lake County election coordinator, load ballots onto an Agilis ballot packet sorting system at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, remained ahead Wednesday of his Republican challenger Burgess Owens in the state’s 4th Congressional District but saw his lead shrink as votes continue to be counted in the largely by-mail election.

McAdams now has 48.2% of the vote and Owens, 47.1% — a 2,652 vote lead for the first-term congressman, who had been up by more than 7,700 votes in late Election Day results from the district that includes portions of Salt Lake, Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties.

So far, more than 242,000 ballots have been counted in the race. But the state Elections Office reported there are still more than 363,000 ballots cast by mail statewide yet to be tabulated, plus more than 34,500 provisional ballots.

“That’s more than I expected, but I’m excited that our turnout is going to be this much higher,” state Elections Director Justin Lee said. Utah has already set a record for voter turnout both in early voting and in the number of ballots received by Election Day.

The outstanding ballots include some 17,000 Utah County votes left to count in the 4th District, Utah County Clerk-Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner said. Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen did not have a breakout of how many of the county’s 188,839 outstanding by-mail ballots are from 4th District voters.

McAdams and Owens, a former NFL player and frequent Fox News guest, had little to say about the latest results.

“We continue to feel optimistic about the outcome in this race,” McAdams’ campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said in a statement. “We’re waiting for the additional election returns before commenting further. Ben is grateful for all the volunteers and supporters who stepped forward to help us this election.”

Owens campaign spokesman Jesse Ranney said, “We always knew this would be a close race, we’re feeling really confident the more ballots come in. Burgess is excited at the prospect of serving CD4.”

The 4th District race was expected to be one of the most competitive in the country, given that McAdams won the Republican-leaning seat held by two-term GOP Rep. Mia Love by less than 700 votes in the 2018 midterm election that gave Democrats control of the House.

McAdams, a former Salt Lake County mayor, is counting on a substantial lead in the state’s most populated county that accounts for the bulk of the district’s voters to make up for lagging behind Owens in more conservative areas of Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties.

That’s how he won the seat in 2018, but it took two weeks before the race was called, and nearly a week longer before Love delivered her concession speech. McAdams said on election night he believes this year’s race will be resolved sooner.

It’s too soon to say whether McAdams will return to Congress, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

“Many different things can happen here so I’m reluctant to say. I’ve seen this race close before and it can happen again,” Karpowitz, a political science professor, said. He said depending on where ballots still remain to be counted, “this race could still get a lot closer and it could flip the other way.”

In this year’s election, Democrats appear to have failed to expand their House majority and take control of the Senate, while Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump are locked in a tight battle for the White House.

Biden, who had a significant lead in preelection polling, said Wednesday he expects to win once all the votes are counted nationwide, but Trump on Tuesday night declared a “big WIN!” on Twitter and has already mounted some legal challenges.

Karpowitz said Biden’s performance was “notable” in Utah, a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic president since 1964. Trump won Utah with more than 58.5% of the vote in the latest results and Biden had 38%, about 10 percentage points higher than Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 finish in the state.

Around the country, neither party ended up “with a big wave election that endorses their approach to politics. So that means at the national level at least, we’re going to have to learn to work with each other,” Karpowitz said, a situation he sees as increasing the influence of more centrist politicians like McAdams.

In Utah’s other congressional races, Republican Rep. Chris Stewart won in the 2nd District over Democrat Kael Weston, 62% to 34%; Republican Rep. John Curtis defeated Democrat Devin Thorpe in the 3rd District, 69% to 27%: and Republican Blake Moore beat Democrat Darren Parry for the open 1st District seat, 68% to 32%.