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Utah 4th Congressional District race now a toss-up, according to new national rating

Cook Report says Rep. Ben McAdams-Burgess Owens race no longer leans Democratic

Republican Burgess Owens, a former NFL player, left, and Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, who are running for McAdams’ seat in the 4th Congressional District.
Republican Burgess Owens, a former NFL player, left, and Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, who are running for McAdams’ seat in the 4th Congressional District.
Kristin Murphy and Colter Peterson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — What’s already been viewed as one of the nation’s most competitive congressional races — a bid by Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, to hang onto the 4th District seat he won by less than 700 votes — just got tighter.

The race between McAdams and his Republican challenger. Burgess Owens, has shifted from “lean Democratic” to a “toss-up” in the latest rating by the Cook Report, an independent and nonpartisan online publication based in Washington, D.C., that analyzes key political races around the country.

David Wasserman, House editor for the Cook Report, cited “multiple polls” showing McAdams tied or trailing Owens, a former NFL player and frequent Fox News guest, in his revised rating for the district, which includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties.

The latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll showed McAdams and Owens tied at 35% each, with nearly a quarter, 24%, of the registered voters surveyed July 27-Aug. 1 still undecided.

Wasserman, who had questioned the high number of undecided voters in the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll, said Monday he relied more on other private polls in the analysis, including one by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican political action committee, that had Owens up over McAdams, 43% to 34%.

“McAdams’ future looked bright earlier this year,” Wasserman said in his analysis, after the GOP’s top pick for the seat, state Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, dropped out of the race citing concerns about the effect of a congressional campaign on his business.

“But today, the race looks surprisingly competitive,” Wasserman concluded, despite doubts about Owens’ appeal.

“Owens, who has been a frequent outspoken guest on Fox News as an African American athlete critical of Colin Kaepernick, is a pro-Trump culture warrior and doesn’t fit the mold of a Republican who would ordinarily do well in these suburbs,” he said.

McAdams, he noted, had held a significant financial advantage in the race and ultimately, Democrats believe that “will help him make that case” to voters. The freshman congressman just started running a TV commercial, but it is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for putting “people before party and principle before politics.”

A former Salt Lake County mayor, McAdams significantly out-raised Owens in the most recent Federal Election Commission financial disclosures, reporting more than $2.6 million in cash on hand as of June 30, compared to less than $93,000 for Owens.

Since then, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., has helped raised more than $100,000 for Owens at events in Utah. National Republican and Democratic organizations already have committed to spending millions in advertising in the state.

Because the 2018 race between McAdams and two-term Republican Rep. Mia Love was so close, Utah’s 4th Congressional District representative has been named one of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents in the U.S. House this election year.

Owens said in a statement his campaign has “always known this will be a competitive race. It’s exciting to see our message resonating with so many people across the 4th District. This will be a tight race till the finish.” He said he’s focused on meeting voters in the district.

His efforts are to make “sure we know what everyone’s dealing with, whether that’s the sheep farmers in Sanpete or those worried about new developments in Salt Lake County. I feel like the more we really get to know voters, the more they get to know me beyond a news headline, the more that will shift in our favor.”

Since his June 30 GOP primary win over state Rep. Kim Coleman, former KSL Newsradio host Jay Mcfarland and nonprofit CEO Trent Christensen, Owens has faced questions about his initial support of President Donald Trump’s call for resuming nuclear weapons testing and his appearance on a show associated with the “QAnon” conspiracy.

Andrew Roberts, McAdams’ campaign manager, Andrew Roberts said in a statement it’s the incumbent who will benefit from voters taking a closer look at the candidates.

“Washington, D.C., insiders won’t decide this race,” Roberts said. “When Utahns learn about Owens’ extreme views on cutting Social Security, eliminating the Department of Education and restarting explosive nuclear weapons testing, we’re confident they’ll choose Ben’s independent leadership.”

He said, “Ben trusts Utah voters and how they take their time vetting the candidates.”

Hinckley Institute Director Jason Perry isn’t surprised the race is getting closer.

“This is exactly what we expected to happen in this district,” Perry said, adding he expects a winner to be determined in November once again by just a few hundred votes. “This district has proven it’s not going to be a runaway for either candidate.”

Correction: An earlier version listed Dan Hemmert as the Senate majority leader. He is actually the Senate majority whip.