SALT LAKE CITY — Donald Trump Jr. marked Utah’s Pioneer Day holiday by saying his father, President Donald Trump, “has stood hand-in-hand with the LDS community while protecting religious liberties for all,” during a campaign stop in the state where he also helped raise money for GOP congressional candidate Burgess Owens.

In a press call commemorating the July 24 celebration of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arriving in Utah in 1847, Trump Jr. told reporters his father “recognizes the enormous contribution Latter-day Saints have made to make America the greatest nation in the world.”

Trump Jr. said he, his father and the presidential campaign “congratulate descendants of the Utah pioneers. Through trials and tribulations, they have built wonderful communities based on law and order, and compassion for their neighbors. Through their hard work, thrift and sacrifice, they have helped develop the west.”

He suggested Trump has a lot in common with them, saying “while in Washington, D.C., they may call people like my father outsiders, here in the West they actually call them pioneers. Outsiders and pioneers are people who embody the innovative spirit, curiosity and optimism that is uniquely American.”

Moses Tauteoli, right, takes a selfie with Donald Trump Jr. at Colonial Flag in Sandy on Thursday, July 23, 2020. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

As for Trump’s Democratic opponent in November’s presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump Jr. slammed Biden for a “total embrace of cancel culture. They’ve canceled the police, they’ve canceled historic monuments, the National Anthem, and the list goes on and on. What’s next? Dare I say our Christian faith?”

But Trump Jr. said the president is “committed to uplifting all communities of faith” and has paid special attention to The Church of Jesus Christ. In 2017, Trump met with church leaders and toured Welfare Square while in the state to announce reductions in Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

“While in Washington, D.C., they may call people like my father outsiders, here in the West they actually call them pioneers. Outsiders and pioneers are people who embody the innovative spirit, curiosity and optimism that is uniquely American.” — Donald Trump Jr.

Scott Howell, a key supporter of Biden in Utah and a former Democratic leader in the state Senate, said Trump Jr. chose “to spew political rhetoric in the great state of Utah during our pioneer celebration. Unfortunately, I don’t believe Brigham Young would approve of the comments made.”

Howell said Biden “continues to garner great support among all political parties and individuals who want stability and predictability in their commander-in-chief, not what we have been receiving the last three and a half years. Taking personal potshots at the vice president, negative campaigning, has never won over Utahns.”

Trump faces a tough battle for reelection, but Trump Jr. said he’s “not so concerned about Utah as a state. I mean, I think it’s a very conservative state. But I do think it’s important to sort of energize the LDS community. I think that’s going to be important, in some of the surrounding states as well” that have many church members.

Trump took Utah four years ago, but with just over 45% of the vote, his lowest margin of victory of any state that he won. Utah, a state that has not elected a Democratic president since 1964, is no longer seen as solidly Republican by some national analysts, although it is still viewed as likely going again for Trump.

In the last presidential election, Trump Jr. said he “legitimately understands the skepticism” church members may have had about voting for his father, likely asking themselves questions including, “Would Donald Trump deliver for religious liberty? Would Donald Trump be as pro-life as he said he’s going to be?”

Trump, the president’s son said, “has delivered on all of those promises, probably more so than any conservative, any president, in modern history. So I would imagine the community is much more in sync with Donald Trump right now, much more understanding of him and that he is the guy that will deliver for them because he’s done it.”

Trump Jr. greeted Owens’ campaign volunteers at Colonial Flag in Sandy, telling them he learned as a child visiting Eastern Europe with his maternal grandfather that “America is the greatest nation in the world and she is worth fighting for. But we have to actually fight. We cannot just roll over and die because the other side would like us to.”

He said Owens, a former NFL player and frequent Fox News guest who’s challenging Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, will help Republicans reclaim the House, describing the GOP congressional leadership in place at the start of his father’s term as “weak.”

Later, Trump Jr. was to meet with a group of Owens’ contributors at a private home in Spanish Fork before the start of the evening’s Fiesta Days Rodeo. Owens spokesman Jesse Ranney said the event was not a ticketed fundraiser, but participants would be encouraged to give more to the campaign.

“Don Jr. has been very supportive of us,” Ranney said.

On Wednesday night, the president’s son mingled at a restaurant in Provo with Utah Republicans on the November ballot, including Owens and gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and his running mate, state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, Ranney said.

State Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who’s running for Henderson’s Senate seat, said the event at La Jolla Groves restaurant was a fundraiser for Owens’ 4th Congressional District race, part of the goal to collect at least $100,000 during Trump Jr.’s visit. Owens has lagged far behind McAdams in raising campaign cash.

Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, speak to Burgess Owens volunteers in Sandy.
Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, speak to volunteers while meeting with congressional candidate Burgess Owens at Colonial Flag in Sandy on Thursday, July 23, 2020. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“It was a fun event. Super casual. Lots of folks from the wildlife community,” McKell said, noting Trump Jr. “has lots of friends in Utah,” where he has come to hunt and fish. “It wasn’t a political rally, where they were throwing out red meat. It was, ‘Let’s get behind Burgess. We’re here among friends. Let’s find a way to do what we can.’”

Ben McAdams ahead of Burgess Owens in 4th District money race

Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top fundraiser for the president’s reelection campaign, was also at the event, he said. Guilfoyle tested positive earlier this month for COVID-19, but reportedly has been asymptomatic and posted a photo taken Tuesday of herself sitting near the president.

McKell said there were lots of pictures taken with Owens’ Super Bowl ring at the Provo event, originally scheduled to be held outside at a cabin in Sundance but moved because of rain. He said he hasn’t given yet to Owens’ campaign, but will. “I hope he does well. I think that’s going to be a tough race.”

McAdams has been labeled one of the nation’s most vulnerable members of Congress up for reelection. Two years ago, he defeated former GOP Rep. Mia Love by less than 700 votes in the 4th District, which includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties.

“Utahns will decide the outcome of this election, and they want a member of Congress who isn’t beholden to either party, is an independent thinker, gets things done and puts Utah first; that’s why Ben McAdams will get reelected,” Andrew Roberts, McAdams’ campaign manager, said when asked about Trump Jr.’s visit.

Trump Jr. promoted Owens on social media even before he won the June 30 Republican primary election over state Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan; former KSL Newsradio host Jay Mcfarland; and nonprofit CEO Trent Christensen. The president endorsed Owens after the election in a tweet.

While in Utah, Trump Jr. went fishing with Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and a longtime supporter of the president in Utah. Trump Jr. campaigned for his father in Utah in 2016.