Burgess Owens widens lead over Ben McAdams as new ballots drop in 4th Congressional District race

4th Congressional District Republican candidate Burgess Owens, right and Democratic Utah Congressman Ben McAdams bump elbows following a debate on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (Kristin Murphy/ Deseret News, via AP, Pool)

Editor’s note: When final votes were counted nearly two weeks after the election, Republican Burgess Owens won the election.

Republican Burgess Owens grew his lead slightly over Rep. Ben McAdams in the closely contested race for Utah’s 4th Congressional District as new ballots were dropped from Sanpete, Salt Lake and Juab counties on Monday.

Owens now has a 695-vote lead over McAdams, the incumbent Democrat who’s vying for a second term in office, with 47.54% of the vote to McAdams' 47.33%. The race remains too close to call, and it could be days before a clear winner emerges.

Jesse Ranney, Owens' campaign spokesman, said in a statement on Monday that the contest had shaped up to be “the extremely close race we always expected.”

“We’re thankful for everyone working tirelessly to get the final vote count,” he added. “We’re feeling good, excited to see more ballots come in and confident when they’re all in Burgess will be representing the 4th District.”

As vote totals continue to fluctuate, the McAdams campaign said it remains confident that “Ben prevails in the race to represent Utah’s 4th District.”

“We are grateful to Utah’s election clerks for their dedication in processing Utahns' ballots,” added Andrew Roberts, McAdams' campaign manager, in a written statement.

The race has been close since election night and at one point shrunk to just 18 votes separating the two candidates. Owens, a former NFL player and frequent Fox News commentator, has trailed for most of the past few days but took a 688-vote lead on Saturday as new ballots were counted in Salt Lake County.

The 2018 race between McAdams and Republican incumbent Rep. Mia Love was similarly hard fought, lasting until the final canvass that takes place two weeks after ballots are cast. McAdams ultimately won by fewer than 700 votes, and was believed to have gotten a boost from a number of high-profile ballot initiatives that turned out more Democratic voters.

Complicating the path to victory for both congressional hopefuls this year is the presence of two third-party candidates, who have split a small portion of the vote away from McAdams and Owens. Libertarian John Molnar has received about 10,263 votes, or 3.16% of the vote, while United Utah candidate Jonia Broderick has picked up 6,379 votes, or 1.97% of the ballots counted so far.

The 4th District straddles Salt Lake and Utah counties and also includes portions of the much smaller Juab and Sanpete counties. Owens has performed better in the latter three counties, while McAdams has earned a higher percentage of the votes in Salt Lake County, which has more Democrats and more independent voters.

Owens has been particularly popular in Juab County, where he has received 80.5% of the vote as of Monday to McAdams' 14.5%. In Sanpete County, he’s received 74.3% of the vote while McAdams has brought in 19.5%.

In Salt Lake County, McAdams has averaged around 54% of the vote. As of Monday, the former Salt Lake County mayor had won 53.06% of counted ballots there, while Owens had picked up 41.87% there. The picture is flipped in Utah County, where Owens had 67.05% of the vote as of Friday night while McAdams carried 26.66%.

No new results were dropped Monday from Utah County, where election officials said Friday evening that they had a few hundred ballots left to be counted in the 4th Congressional District.

Salt Lake County could have as many as 65,000 ballots left to count, including provisional ballots, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said Monday. But it’s not clear how many of those are in the 4th Congressional District.