Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams and his GOP challenger, Burgess Owens, each were asked Tuesday at a candidate forum to list one thing they appreciate about the other. Owens struggled.
“I think he’s very loyal to his ideology,” Owens said about McAdams, who portrays himself as a moderate but whom Owens has attacked as a liberal. “Ben has been able to vote 85% for Nancy Pelosi,” the Democratic House speaker whom McAdams actually voted against.
Moderator Clark Ivory, a housing developer who hosted the forum for The Salt Lake Chamber to ask mostly questions about business, tried again and asked Owens “for something a little more sincere.”
“I haven’t really had a chance to know Ben,” Owens said. “I’ve heard he’s a good guy. So, I don’t doubt that whatsoever. But I will say this, we are in times right now where we need more than that. We need warriors.”
Candidates appeared separately at the forum, one after another, with McAdams going first. But they were asked the same questions.
McAdams in his turn said about Owens, “It seems like Burgess Owens is a person of deep conviction and deep faith, and I respect that about him. I think that to do this job, it takes a conviction and strength.”
Then McAdams said he himself has those same admirable qualities.
“I think that’s something we both share,” he said. “As a person of faith myself, that’s a conviction that motivates me to serve and to give back to our community and to our state. And I think Mr. Owens has that same conviction.”
Among major Utah races, their 4th congressional district battle is the only one that is relatively close. A Utah Debate Commission poll last month showed McAdams at 47.2% and Owens, a former NFL player, at 36.7%. McAdams won his seat two years ago by less than 700 votes. Both sides have been running a deluge of hard-hitting political ads.
Following is some of the issues they addressed at the Tuesday forum:
• BIPARTISANSHIP. Both were asked how they would end divisiveness and seek bipartisanship. But Owens said that is not what is needed.
“The first thing we have to do is make sure that the Republican Party gets control again,” he said. “We’re at a point now we just cannot afford to go off the cliff and allow a socialist to actually take the lead now.”
He added, “We have to be honest about this. There are truly people who don’t love our culture and do anything to destroy it and transform us into something else.”
In contrast, McAdams said, “Fixing what’s broken about Washington starts with electing people who are committed to fixing it, who believe that we can work across the aisle,” and he said he does that.
“I always try to see and then listen to somebody else’s concerns and their ideas and ask myself what I can learn from them.” McAdams added he joined the Problem Solvers Caucus, with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, to seek bipartisan solutions.
• RACISM. Owens, who is Black and grew up in the deep South, said someone needs to stand up to help show that Utah is not racist even though it is overwhelmingly white.
“Don’t let anyone tell us that we’re racist because we’re white. And as a Black person, don’t let anybody tell me that I should be angry because you’re white,” he said. “That’s the worst thing that helped our country. I grew up in the ’60s when that was prevalent. We don’t need to be racist, guys. We’re way past that.”
McAdams said addressing concerns over race “is going to require all of us to be at the table constructively, peacefully, talking through the ideas, understanding and listening [about] where people feel left behind — and finding ways to move forward and to make sure that everybody feels included and treated fairly and equally.”
•TOP ECONOMIC NEED. Each candidate was asked what he sees as the nation’s top economic need. McAdams said his is getting sides to agree on and pass pandemic aid.
“Over the summer, it became much more partisan. And that’s disappointing,” he said. “I stand with my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, in calling on leadership in the House and in the Senate from both parties to get back to the negotiating table to get a package agreed upon.” President Donald Trump on Wednesday called off such negotiations until after the election.
Owens said his top priority is to help Trump reduce more business regulations and make tax cuts. “We need to bet back to that,” he said. “Let’s make sure that we continue to lower the regulations.”
• IMMIGRATION REFORM. McAdams says he has voted to help “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, to obtain a pathway to citizenship, and has sought more visas for high-tech workers.
Owens said, “We need to make sure that we have a visa reform where people come here, do the work, our businesses benefit, and they go back home.”
• MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE. Owens opposes it, saying it destroys jobs for young people who may need part-time or other starter jobs. McAdams says he favors it, but notes he voted against a bill that would have raised it nationally — saying it is better to handle increases regionally to handle difference in the states about cost of living.
McAdams and Owens are scheduled to appear in a televised debate on Monday at 6 p.m. sponsored by the Utah Debate Commission. It is scheduled to appear on most local TV stations, some radios stations, and will be available online at the commission’s website.