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Burgess Owens widens his lead in Utah’s 4th Congressional District as ballots continue to drop

(Kristin Murphy | Deseret News, via AP, Pool) In this Oct. 12, 2020, file photo, 4th Congressional District Republican candidate Burgess Owens speaks during an Utah Debate Commission debate against Democratic Utah Congressman Ben McAdams. Owens has taken a lead in the contest but votes are still being counted.

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 over Rep. Ben McAdams on Tuesday after new ballots were dropped from Salt Lake and Utah counties in Utah’s 4th Congressional District.

Owens now has a 1,780-vote lead in the closely-watched race, with 47.61% of the vote to McAdams' 47.10%. While a clear winner has emerged in most races in the state one week after final ballots were cast on Election Day, this contest remains too close to call — and it could be days before Utahns in the district know who they’ll be sending to Congress.

Both campaigns have expressed confidence over the past few days that their candidate will ultimately be elected — a message Jesse Ranney, Owens' campaign spokesman, reiterated in a statement on Tuesday.

“We’re feeling really optimistic,” he said. “We’re looking forward to having the final count in."

McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said Tuesday that the race was "proving to be as close as we always said it would be.”

“Utah election clerks continue to count ballots in Utah’s 4th Congressional District," he added in a written statement. "We remain optimistic that Ben will ultimately prevail and await more results Wednesday.”

The race has been close since election night and at one point shrunk to just 18 votes separating the two candidates. While McAdams held onto his lead for much of last week, Owens, a former NFL player and frequent Fox News commentator, took the lead on Saturday. On Monday, he was ahead by 695 votes.

Voters in Utah’s 4th Congressional District are no stranger to long elections. The 2018 race between McAdams and Republican incumbent Rep. Mia Love lasted until the final canvass that takes place two weeks after ballots are cast, when McAdams ultimately won by fewer than 700 votes.

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, where he served as county mayor before his election to Congress.

McAdams had previously been pulling in around 54% of all votes in Salt Lake County, on average. But his support there has slipped slightly in the last few days, down to 52.35% to Owens' 42.37% on Tuesday. And the first-term Democrat has fared far worse than Owens in the more conservative Utah County, bringing in 26.67% of the votes there while Owens has earned 67.06%.

During the race, McAdams sought to position himself as a moderate in order to build a coalition of Democratic, independent and cross over votes in the race — a tactic that served him well in 2018. Owens, on the other hand, primarily appealed to conservative Utah voters.

There could be as many as 29,000 ballots remaining in Salt Lake County to count, including provisional ballots, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said Tuesday. But it’s not clear how many of those are in the 4th Congressional District.

Utah County estimates there are “a few hundred” ballots left to be counted in the district.

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