Washington • The race by GOP challengers hoping to take on Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams this fall comes down to, basically, how strongly they support President Donald Trump and think Democrats are trying to obstruct him and drive the country in a different direction.
“Mr. McAdams has spent his time in Congress — at the people’s expense — attempting to thwart our president’s earnest endeavors,” says West Valley City resident Cindy Thompson.
Adds candidate Kathleen Anderson: "President Trump recently said that he’s already led America to one [of] its greatest moments of economic prosperity, and that he will do so a second time.”
Seven Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination, and with three already qualified for the primary ballot by gathering signatures, this week’s state GOP convention is the last chance for four contenders to win enough support to appear before voters in the June 30 primary.
McAdams, a freshman who won his seat by less than 700 votes, also faces a Democratic challenger from his left flank who says the congressman aligns too much with the GOP.
Here’s a quick look at those seeking the Republican nomination to challenge McAdams, starting with the four candidates who have staked their campaigns on the GOP convention. At most, two of them could advance to the primary. On the other hand, it’s possible all four could be eliminated.
State Rep. Kim Coleman
After six years in the Utah Legislature, Coleman says she's proven that she's a conservative leader and could bring her experience to Washington. She touts endorsements from Trump's economic adviser Stephen Moore and leaders of the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group that had included Rep. Mark Meadows, now Trump's chief of staff.
“It’s very easy to talk about how conservative you are and what a fighter you are, but I’ve been doing it, not just for six years in the Utah Legislature but in my communities my entire adult life,” Coleman said.
Coleman leads in the fundraising race so far, having pulled in nearly $400,000, and still has $115,000 on hand, according to the latest filing with the Federal Election Commission. (McAdams, however, has raised $2.8 million and still has $2.2 million in the bank.)
Coleman, a West Jordan resident, says McAdams has to go because he's a lackey to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“Ben does a very good job of coming off as a kind, harmless man – when he’s in Utah he talks the talk like he shares our values,” Coleman said. “But in Washington he walks whatever walk Nancy Pelosi tells him to. And this November, Utahns will hand him his walking papers.”
Coleman adds that she's been “fighting Ben McAdams for years and I'm not about to stop. … I look forward to giving him a long overdue vacation.”
Anderson is a newcomer to running for office, though she holds a political science degree from Brigham Young University and has volunteered with the Utah Republican Party. She’s the immediate past president of the Utah Federation of Republican Women.
She's running, she says, “because we have a career politician problem. I don’t believe our Founders envisioned a government of career politicians that has only led to extensive corruption, cronyism and a bloated bureaucracy.”
She also says the Bill of Rights is under attack and it “alarms” her.
“I’m not OK with repeated violations of the 4th Amendment,” she says. “In America, you are innocent until proven guilty. We cannot tolerate an America where a person is guilty by accusation because we don’t like them.”
She cites specifically her opposition to so-called red flag laws, which allow police to seize firearms from someone who may be a threat to themselves or others. “When we allow an attack on one of our freedoms, it becomes a slippery slope. We must vigilantly protect each of our rights.”
Anderson, who backs Trump, says McAdams is wrong for the district.
“This is not a time to elect another Congress that will fight against our president every step of the way,” she says. “There’s too much at stake. Americans deserve better than more members of Congress who put their careers ahead of America.”
A nurse practitioner who specializes in viral diseases, Biesinger says he's running for Congress because of the “division in our country and the abuse of power I have witnessed in our Congress I decided I could not stand on the sidelines any longer.”
Biesinger, of Spanish Fork, is also a captain in the Utah Army National Guard where he serves as a combat medic.
“My demeanor is one of my strengths,” Biesinger says. “I won't be getting mad on the floor of the House. I won't be casting aspersions upon other Democrats or Republicans. I will always draw a line in the sand when needed but with respect. I don't believe in malice, I believe in a moral compass.”
That said, Biesinger argues McAdams needs to lose.
“He has shown in my opinion what kind of politician he is and will continue to be: one who follows, not one who leads. The last thing Utah needs right now is a yes man to power in politics. I am no yes man.”
Thompson says she backed Trump in 2016 and supports his America First agenda.
“Overall, I believe President Trump is taking our country in the right direction,” she says.
She backs a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to America as children but says she's worked to end a lottery system for visas, “chain migration” and “catch-and-release” policies for those in the country without legal status.
And she says the 4th District needs someone who supports Trump.
“I believe President Trump has been a valuable asset for America and Utah,” she says in campaign materials. “This unbearable situation brought me to the realization that Mr. McAdams is out of touch with the wants and needs of his constituents. For Ben McAdams to continually thwart our president is the absolute same thing as Ben McAdams thwarting the people of the great state of Utah and our constituents of District 4.”
The three following Republican candidates also will compete in the party convention, but the stakes are much lower for them. Each one has already qualified for the June 30 primary by gathering signatures, no matter how they fare with GOP delegates.
Christensen, the chief executive of venturecapital.org, a nonprofit based in Salt Lake City, says he’s considered running before but liked his role in the private sector. He worked on Mitt Romney’s two runs for the White House and was executive director of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, named after Utah’s longest-serving senator who retired in 2018.
But, Christensen says, he made a promise that he would run for office and if elected, serve no more than four terms.
“It just seems like you ought to be able to get [in] and make a meaningful contribution and get out,” Christensen says. “I have a contribution to make. I understand the economy. I can get in, make my contribution, and then come back and do what I really enjoy, which is helping businesses grow.”
Christensen, who has secured a spot on the primary ballot by gathering signatures, says McAdams needs to go because he isn't representing his constituents.
“I don't think you go to Congress claiming to be a conservative Democrat and then vote with Nancy Pelosi and the liberals eight of the 10 times and then say that you're adequately representing your state,” Christensen says.
Voters will like him, he adds, because he's got a track record in business.
“I think they want someone who’s going to look at strong fiscal conservative policy, strong social conservative policy and have a backbone and stand up and say this is what the citizens of Utah want,” he says. “And this is what they’re gonna get from me.”
Owens is running his first campaign and while he says McAdams seems like a “nice guy,” his ideology is “dangerous.”
“Even as a ‘moderate’ Democrat he is forced to toe the party line 90% of the time,” Owens says.
The candidate is a Draper resident who spent years in the NFL, first with the New York Jets and later the Oakland Raiders. Later, after a career in the corporate world, he launched Chance 4 Youth, a foundation to help at-risk teens.
“I am running for office because for years I have worked with youth who have often been overlooked. We've made progress and seen so many young men and women change their lives,” Owens said. “I came to the realization if we don't get our house back, so many more kids will be lost. We need someone willing to go to Washington and advocate for real changes in our education system among other things.”
Owens has raised the second most of the GOP candidates, about $344,000, and has $92,000 in his campaign kitty.
McFarland, who didn’t respond to multiple messages seeking comment for this story, is a former KSL NewsRadio host. He said in announcing his bid that his years in broadcasting have shown he’s “passionately fought for compassion, understanding, and respect in a world of ever-increasing political polarization."
And while he may not have run for office before, his experience in the public airwaves gives him the perspective to work well in Congress.
“Being in Congress is about the battle of ideas,” McFarland said.
The former newsman, who lives in Herriman, says he doesn’t believe the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, can be fixed and that he’s concerned liberals wants to give more power to the federal government.
“I don’t believe they’ve earned the right to run our programs,” McFarland said. “They can’t run what they have now.”
Democrat Daniel Beckstrand
Beckstrand, who faces McAdams in the state Democratic convention on Saturday, describes himself as a progressive.
“Issues like Medicare for All, a livable wage, workers' rights, tuition-free education, the Green New Deal, and campaign finance reform are all very popular policies that align with Utah voters' values,” Beckstrand argues. “It's not so much about left vs. right as much as it is a fight between the ruling class and the working class.”
Beckstrand says Utah voters need a choice in November that isn't between a Republican and a “self-proclaimed conservative” like McAdams.
“I worry that McAdams, who barely won in 2018, will not have enough excitement behind him to win again in a general election,” Beckstrand says. “His tendency to capitulate to GOP talking points is only hurting his reputation among Utah Democrats and independents, who outnumber Republicans in this district. When given the option between a Republican and a Republican-lite candidate, Republicans will always vote for the Republican. So I worry that McAdams’ strategy will cost him and the party this very important seat.”