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Burgess Owens, Utah congressional candidate, to speak at the Republican convention

(Screenshot via Utah Debate Commission) Burgess Owens participates in a Republican primary debate for the 4th Congressional District at the University of Utah, Monday, June 1, 2020.

Burgess Owens, the Republican candidate in Utah’s tight 4th Congressional District contest, will speak at the Republican National Convention this week.

Owens, a frequent commentator on Fox News, will participate on Wednesday, according to a list of speakers released by President Donald Trump’s campaign. That’s the same day Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence and President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara, will speak.

The convention begins Monday and that day will be headlined by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. First lady Melania Trump will speak Tuesday and the president’s main address will be Thursday, though Trump is expected to make an appearance on each night of the convention.

Owens faces Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, in the state’s most watched federal contest. McAdams claimed the seat in 2018 in a nail-bitter with Republican Rep. Mia Love, winning by fewer than 700 votes.

The handicappers at the Cook Political Repot say the race between McAdams and Owens is a toss up.

Owens is a former professional football player who founded Second Chance 4 Youth, a nonprofit aimed at helping troubled kids. He has been a strong advocate for Trump and often wears the president’s signature Make America Great Again red ball cap. He is the only Utahn scheduled to participate in the Republican National Convention.

“I’m honored to have an opportunity to say a few words,” Owens said in a statement Sunday. “I love that the theme is ‘land of opportunity,’ because that’s my message. We are the land of second chances. Republican, Democrat, independent, it doesn’t matter, we are blessed to have opportunities that some of our ancestors could only dream of.”

Democrats and liberal groups have criticized Owens as being a far-right candidate. On Friday, Alliance for a Better Utah pointed to a piece in Media Matters, a liberal news site, that showed Owens helped promote We Build the Wall, a group that raised millions to purportedly build sections of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Organizers of that group, including Steve Bannon, a one-time Trump confidant, have been charged federally with fraud.

Owens appeared in an online “Wall-a-thon” in the summer of 2019, encouraging donations. In that appearance, Owens, speaking about immigrants and the need for a border wall, said liberals are “trying to bring in a whole new group of people, people who could care less about our country, do not understand the American way, have not learned our language, our culture. And they will come here and vote for Democrats. And that’s what these people do.”

Chase Thomas, the executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, said Owens should apologize for his appearance.

“It’s concerning but not surprising to learn that Burgess Owens, a candidate for Congress, was involved in raising money to build this fantasy border wall,” Thomas said. “Hitching himself to this scam that was doomed to fail from the beginning certainly calls into question his fitness to represent Utahns, and the offensive anti-immigrant rhetoric he helped spread makes it even worse.”

In response to similar criticism on Twitter, Owens responded: “The true heart of Utahans? Empathy”. The lowest unemployment in history for Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, Vet & teens. 400% growth in Black business. Highest US employment in history. Results of POLICIES? Americans pursuing HOPES & DREAMS. Who cares about personality & tweets”

The Republican convention comes the week after Democrats formally nominated former Vice President Joe Biden.

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