Every vote will count this November in Utah’s hotly contested 4th Congressional District race. But because neither Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams nor Republican nominee Burgess Owens lives in the congressional district each is running to represent, both candidates will be unable to cast a ballot for themselves.
The Constitution allows residents to run for any congressional seat in their respective states, so there’s no legal issues at play. Nevertheless, the question of outside-the-district residency has come up as an issue in other races, including McAdams’ 2018 run against Mia Love.
Since both major-party nominees live outside of the district this year — a first in Utah — that likely won’t become a point of contention in this race.
“It makes it a nonissue for either candidate because you can’t fault your opponent for doing the same thing that’s your own liability,” said Damon Cann, a professor of political science at Utah State University.
When Owens filed to run for the seat, he clicked a box to prevent public disclosure of his personal address. But public records show that he’s registered to vote at a Draper address that sits within the 3rd Congressional District.
The owner of that property is listed as Sunset Ridge At South Mountain LC, a business that state records show is registered to William O. Perry III, one of the state’s large political donors. Aside from owning the house he lives in, Perry is also one of Owens’ financial backers and has donated $8,400 to the Republican candidate’s campaign.
Asked whether it should matter to voters that Owens lives outside the district, his campaign spokesman, Jesse Ranney, replied in a statement that Owens “has six children and 15 grandchildren living in the 4th District. There is no more important place to him in the world.”
McAdams, who lives about two blocks away from the 4th Congressional District in Salt Lake City, previously had to fend off attacks about his address from Love, who frequently sought to draw attention to the issue.
In a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune about his residency, McAdams struck a familiar chord, noting as he did during his past race that he had previously represented 85% of the 4th Congressional District during his six years as Salt Lake County mayor.
Throughout his time representing the district in Congress, “I’ve consistently visited each city and town, I’ve listened to thousands of constituents during telephone town halls, and my office has solved hundreds of constituent issues districtwide,” he said. “That’s how I approach public service and how I do the job of representative.”
It used to be almost unheard of for candidates to run outside their home district. Before 2008, only two House members ever clearly lived outside the districts that elected them, neither from Utah.
Since then, it’s become far less rare. Three Utahns have pulled it off: Republican Jason Chaffetz and Democrats Jim Matheson and McAdams.
This year, there are four candidates running to represent districts they don’t live in. Aside from Owens and McAdams, 1st Congressional District Democratic nominee Blake Moore also doesn’t live in his district. Neither does 3rd Congressional District Democratic nominee Devin Thorpe.
”I think I’m the only one running that lives in his district,” 3rd District Rep. John Curtis joked this week when asked what he thinks about Thorpe’s residency.
When candidates seek to represent an area they don’t live in, it can open them up to criticisms that they don’t understand the people in the community or the issues they face. In northern Utah’s 1st Congressional District race, for example, several of Moore’s primary opponents made his Salt Lake City address an issue — despite promises that if he wins, he plans to live in the district, either by moving back or perhaps being included as district lines are redrawn after the current census.
But Cann said a candidate’s home address hasn’t historically posed an overwhelming challenge.
“The key thing for most voters is do they believe that the candidate will really represent their views in Congress, and their region of residence can be construed as one component of that,” he said. “But as long as the voters feel the candidate will represent their issues, it certainly hasn’t proven to be an insurmountable obstacle to have someone from outside the district.”
Once candidates are elected to Washington, D.C., he noted, they spend more time there than they do in the district they’re representing anyway.
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Lee Davidson contributed to this report.