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Election news from across Utah's statewide and national races in 2020.

Cash Contributions In Utah’s 1st Congressional District Pale In Comparison To 4th District

A photo of a reel of 'I voted today' stickers on top of various American dollar bills.
Joaquin Corbalant
Political scientist Leah Murray said it can be difficult to raise money in Utah’s 1st Congressional District because it’s not a competitive seat. On top of that, it’s an open seat this year, with Rep. Rob Bishop, R-UT, not seeking re-election. Murray said people tend to donate to incumbents over newcomers.

The race between Rep. Ben McAdams, D-UT, and Republican Burgess Owens in Utah’s 4th Congressional District could be considered Utah's most competitive this election — and one of the tightest in the country.

Because of that, it’s also garnering a lot of financial attention. As of Oct. 14, the two candidates have brought in $8.9 million, according to campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a Republican has held the seat in Utah’s 1st Congressional District for 40 years — and that’s one reason Leah Murray, a professor of political science at Weber State University, said it’s almost impossible to raise money there.

“[Congressional District 1] is never competitive,” Murray said. “It is rated right now as super red. So, no national leadership caucus or [political action committee] is going to highlight it and say we need to go after this in any way.”

Murray said another factor is it's an open seat this year, with Rep. Rob Bishop, R-UT, retiring. She said people are more likely to donate to incumbents.

“People who spend money on elections are smart and strategic, and the bulk of that money in congressional races goes to incumbents,” she said. “You bet on a horse you already know.”

Still, Bishop has been in office for about two decades, and he said he has regularly raised less money than his colleagues in Utah.

“I just think I am lousy at asking people for money,” Bishop said. “I don't like going out of my way to do it and will avoid it if at all possible.”

He has also been criticized for raising most of his money outside the state. But Bishop argued it’s hard to fundraise in Utah as a Republican because all the other GOP candidates are dipping into the same pot.

“I have to admit that I did that graciously and on purpose because I knew how hard the people that donate in Utah are always being hit up,” he said. “That if I could actually raise the money I needed and not have to hit up my constituents, I felt that was a help to them. And I felt good about that.”

Bishop said, in his opinion, candidates in Utah don’t need much money to reach voters, anyway. He said shelling out money for TV ads is unnecessary and maybe less effective — and more annoying — than inexpensive mailers.

“In Utah, I think you can run much cheaper campaigns than you can anywhere else,” he said. “Some of my friends in the House who will spend like $1 million to $2 million on their own races, that, to me, is painful. What McAdams is going to be spending in the 4th District is painful.”

In the 1st Congressional District, Republican Blake Moore has received $448,464 in contributions — but he also has loaned himself nearly $300,000. Democrat Darren Parry has raised just $34,214 and has loaned himself a little more than $3,000.

The two have raised the least of any Utah congressional candidate in their respective parties. They’re also the only two candidates who have taken out loans for their campaigns.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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