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Find KUER's reporting on the races, candidates and more for Utah’s 2018 midterm elections. Click here for our graphics of the U.S. Senate race, 4 Congressional races and Utah ballot initiatives.

CD 4: As Parties Drift Apart, Ben McAdams Campaigns To The Middle

Ben McAdams headshot.
Kelsie Moore / KUER
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is taking a page from Jim Matheson's playbook in his run for Congress. Matheson, the former Democratic Congressman from Utah's 4th District, was able to lure more moderate voters.

The last in KUER's series on the Democratic candidates challenging Utah's Republican incumbents in this year's congressional midterm races.

Riverview Park in Murray is like most parks in the Salt Lake Valley. There are dog walkers, joggers and moms pushing children on swings. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams wants to make moderates out of all of them in his quest for Congress.

The residents of this neighborhood are exactly the type the 43-year-old Democrat will need to win over to unseat two-term incumbent Mia Love.

On a hazy evening earlier this month, McAdams aimed to do just that as he held a meet-and-greet with about 15 voters in this sleepy suburban pocket.

"Some of you I gather are supporters of mine," he began, "some of you are Republicans who are here tonight — and are even supporting me."

Ben McAdams speaks with a couple in the park.
Credit Julia Ritchey / KUER
Mayor Ben McAdams (right) spoke with Paul (left) and Lynn (center) Metcalf when we stumped at Riverview Park in Murray earlier this month. He hopes that he can sway self-described moderate voters like them to unseat two-term incumbent Rep. Mia Love this November.

Those Republicans would be husband and wife Paul and Lynn Metcalf, who sat lawn chairs. Paul Metcalf is what one might call a "people over party" kind of guy who supported Mia Love's predecessor in the 4th District, Democrat Jim Matheson.

As moderate Republicans, the Metcalfs may be the GOP's version of an endangered species.

"I did not vote for Trump, but I couldn't bring myself to vote for Hillary either," Metcalf said.

He instead voted for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Paul Metcalf, like the others at Riverview Park that night, are united by one issue in particular this cycle: a strong aversion to President Trump.

Utah's 4th district is the least Trump friendly territory of the state's four Republican-leaning congressional districts. Trump only carried the district by about 7 percentage points, and won the state overall by a historically low margin for a Republican.

Metcalf said he thinks Utah's members of Congress, including Love, are too deferential to Trump.

"Now, they're all cozying up to him, because they're afraid of being Trumped. It makes me sad that people don't really see him for what he is," said Metcalf.

McAdams has made it clear he knows it will take more than Trump fatigue to get people to the polls this November. But he believes he's found an opening with one particular issue: immigration reform.

Utahns want something to happen with immigration and overwhelmingly support Dreamers, the young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

"We've done everything we can at the local level," said McAdams. "Quite frankly, nothing has happened at the federal level, and that's on [Love]. And not only is it on her collectively as a member of Congress, but individually she has opposed immigration reform at every turn."

His claim isn't completely accurate. While Love did cast votes in 2015 against President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program, she's since softened her stance.

Pointing to her support for a pathway for Dreamers, Love's campaign has touted the fact she was the only member of Utah's delegation earlier this year to sign onto a doomed discharge petition to force a vote in the House.

McAdams said her record only proves his point that it's not a matter of conviction but of expediency.

"I've had a long track record of working for immigration reform as one of the original drafters of the Utah Compact [and] working in the state Senate and as mayor to advance sensible immigration reform," he said.

The Utah Compact, as McAdams referred to, was a largely symbolic statement of principles signed onto by state leaders in 2010 that outlined a more moderate approach to immigration reform.


McAdams, in his second term as mayor, is positioning himself as a bridge builder in the race. This week he tweeted a photo of himself next to Republican House Speaker Greg Hughes and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox after a press conference on the year-anniversary of Operation Rio Grande.

Sometimes that's going to put me siding with Democrats, and honestly sometimes I'll be siding with Republicans.

While progressive candidates like New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have grabbed headlines, McAdams is chipping away at the state's sizeable independent bloc with more middle-of-the-road platforms. For example, he said he wouldn't support Nancy Pelosi for another term in House leadership and isn't on board with the "Abolish ICE" campaign to eliminate the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

"Simply abolishing an agency and replacing it with another agency that has the same leadership and the same vision from the same president isn't going to fix any problem. So it's a nice hashtag but I don't think it works," he said.

If elected, he said, he wants to be true to himself.

"Sometimes that's going to put me siding with Democrats, and honestly sometimes I'll be siding with Republicans," said McAdams.

While I think initially I was excited about what she might represent, and others were as well, I think we've been disappointed. And I will say nobody, no matter how unique they are, deserves to keep a job that they haven't done just because of who they are.

But zeroing in on immigration has its risks for McAdams. Love is the daughter of Haitian immigrants and has played up that fact in statements condemning the president's divisive rhetoric, especially in a well-publicized episode earlier this year in which Trump referred to Haiti with a vulgar term.

Not only that, but Love is the first black Republican woman ever elected to Congress. When asked whether he thought it awkward to run against someone who has broken through that race barrier, McAdams said his position has changed since she took office.

"While I think initially I was excited about what she might represent, and others were as well, I think we've been disappointed," he said. "And I will say nobody, no matter how unique they are, deserves to keep a job that they haven't done just because of who they are."

Right now, both McAdams and Love are tied for money on hand and, according to the most recent poll in June, the lead - with Love holding a slight advantage within the margin of error.

That poll, by the Salt Lake Tribune and Hinckley Institute of Politics, also showed independents favoring McAdams.

If McAdams hopes to win this November, he'll have to capture that ever-shifting center.

More KUER 2018 midtermcoverage.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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