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Robert Gehrke: McAdams’ math is even more daunting than it was four years ago

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Vote-counting in Utah’s 4th Congressional District is nearing an end and after a few thousand votes were added Thursday, Republican Burgess Owens' lead stands at 1,616 votes over Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams.

Even as the lead moved to Owens, though, I had been confident that McAdams would pull it off because there had been huge numbers of votes counted in the south end of the valley, areas that favored Owens, and comparably few in the heart of the county, West Valley City and other areas that favored McAdams.

Now, it appears, voters in those McAdams-leaning districts just didn’t show up.

Right now, turnout in the district is just below 85%. There are 187 precincts where turnout was below that mark and 174 of them were precincts that leaned toward McAdams.

What’s more there were 30 precincts where turnout didn’t even get to the levels we saw two years ago — 29 of them were McAdams precincts. The assumption has got to be that those voters turned out and voted to support the medical marijuana or Medicaid expansion initiatives two years ago, but stayed home this year.

As I noted the other day, he was in an eerily similar situation two years ago on the final day of counting — trailing Republican Rep. Mia Love by 1,516 votes with only about 7,900 Salt Lake County provisionals left to count. He won 64% of them and beat Love by fewer than 700 votes.

Now he trails Owens by 100 more votes with what I’m guesstimating is about 7,500 mostly provisional ballots. It’s hard to know for sure because the numbers out of the county clerk’s office keep changing. But the last estimate was that there are 11,278 provisional ballots countywide and about 1,500 ballots to be cured, which means the voter made a mistake and has the chance to fix it by Monday. So not all of those votes will end up being counted. And 57.5% of the registered Salt Lake County voters live in the 4th District.

In a head-to-head, McAdams would need about 61% of the remaining ballots to tie — better than he has done so far this year but not the same numbers he had two years ago.

The math is complicated by the third-party candidates, who have been getting about 6% of the vote (more in recent days) which would knock the ballots to be split between McAdams and Owens to about 7,000.

That means McAdams would have to win about 62% to Owens 33% with the third parties getting the rest.

Conventional wisdom is that provisional votes usually favor the Democrat, because they are cast by people who have moved since the last election meaning they are usually younger and more transient.

But remember I mentioned above where two years ago we had the big Democratic turnout for the marijuana and Medicaid initiatives. Those provisionals that year went 81% in favor of the marijuana measure. So he doesn’t have that tailwind this time.

In addition, we’ve got an unknown number of ballots in Utah County, possibly a couple thousand, according to the clerk’s office, but it’s difficult to estimate the stragglers.

So with a slightly larger deficit to close, slightly fewer ballots to rely on and likely no major proposition boost, it’s going to be challenging for McAdams to close the gap.

But if you saw Jon Rahm skip his golf shot off the pond three times before rolling it for what seemed like a quarter mile and putting it in the cup for a hole-in-one, you know wild things are possible.

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