Former NFL player Burgess Owens jumped out to a strong lead in Utah’s 4th Congressional District Republican primary Tuesday night, with the eventual winner taking on Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams in November.
Owens had 43.5% of the vote, followed by state Rep. Kim Coleman with 23.9% and Jay “JayMac” McFarland, a former KSL NewsRadio host with 21.7%. Trent Christensen, a venture capitalist CEO, came in with 11%.
Owens said his healthy lead showed that his message resonated with voters. He’s now focused on helping Republicans win back the House in November and toppling McAdams, a freshman who won by less than 700 votes in 2018.
”I think the district understands not only how important our vote is [but] that by being engaged this time around we can literally be the linchpin that saves our country,” Owens said.
The results will be updated Wednesday afternoon and in the days to come as more ballots come in, but the Associated Press has officially called Owens the Republican nominee.
The four-way race for the GOP nomination had been one of the more closely watched races — on top of the hotly contested competition for the Republican nomination for governor.
The 4th District, which stretches from rural Sanpete County through the Salt Lake Valley’s west side, is a predominately Republican district but swung in 2018 from then-Rep. Mia Love, a Republican, to McAdams, a moderate Democrat.
The GOP nominee faces a tough task. The Cook Political Report, a political handicapper, rates the district as leaning Democrat.
“Two years ago, McAdams was the successful challenger in a bruising election in what has turned out to be the most competitive district in the country,” said Jason Perry, the head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. “He enters this current race as an incumbent with significant name recognition and fundraising ability.”
McAdams, who is the former mayor of Salt Lake County and previously served in the state Senate, has $2.2 million in his campaign account — more than all of the four GOP challengers combined — though the race will eventually cost a lot more. Love, for example, spent $5.8 million and lost the race two years ago.
And the incumbent also has to overcome efforts to paint him as a loyalist for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a much-hated figure in conservative circles, even though McAdams voted for someone else to lead the chamber.
McAdams is also likely to face criticism for his vote in December to back two impeachment charges against President Donald Trump, who was later acquitted in a Senate trial.
Perry said for the most part, McAdams has done a good job of “threading the needle” in keeping his moderate credentials in a hyperpartisan environment.
“The challenger who emerges from today’s primary will enter a very competitive race that the whole country will be watching and where simply being a Republican will not be enough to carry the district,” Perry said.
All four of the Republican challengers support Trump, though some more than others.
In an earlier debate, Christensen and McFarland attempted to show how they would be able to work with Democrats, who are expected to keep control of the House if current polls are an indication.
Coleman, whom Love endorsed, talked up the conservative cred she’s built in the Legislature. While Owens blasted Democrats.
“We’re dealing with people who hate our country,” Owens said of the opposing party. “I will not negotiate a compromise with anyone who hates my country, because they have a totally different endgame.”
McFarland, who is the only GOP contender in the race to promote mask wearing amid the pandemic, pitched himself as willing to work toward shared goals rather than simply fight the other side.
“I think we have to change who we’re sending” to Congress, McFarland said in the debate. “We’re choosing extremes who can’t even look at the other side, can’t even talk to the other side.”
Clarification: 7/1/20 12:43 a.m. This story was updated to reflect additional votes counted by Utah County after midnight.