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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. 

Mia Love, Ben McAdams To Square Off In Widely Anticipated CD 4 Debate

side by side of mcadams and love.
KUER
Democrat Ben McAdams, left, and Republican Rep. Mia Love, right.

Candidates in Utah’s most hotly contested congressional race will square off Monday night in their first and only debate.

GOP incumbent Mia Love faces the Democratic challenger and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams in the bid for Utah’s competitive 4th Congressional District, concentrated in Salt Lake County with parts of Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties.

KUER will provide a live broadcast of the debate, being held at Salt Lake Community College’s Sandy campus, beginning at 6 p.m. MT on 90.1 FM and streaming at KUER.org.

Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its prediction rating of the race from “lean GOP” to “toss-up” due to President Trump’s declining poll numbers in the state.

Democrats across the country are hoping enthusiasm among their voting base will help them retake control of the U.S. House after eight years in the minority.

“This is likely to be the most important and most interesting debate we’ll see,” said Chris Karpowitz, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University.

Karpowitz spoke with KUER on the key things to look for in Monday’s debate.

Who Can Appeal To Independents More?

“Both candidates are going to be competing for independent voters and moderate Republicans, because that’s where the race is likely to be won or lost,” said Karpowitz.

Polls show McAdams and Love have secured their base, so that means both have to pick up more centrist voters to gain the edge.

“The district is still one that leans in a Republican direction … and that gives [Love] certain advantages,” said Karpowitz.

He said Utahns can expect McAdams to go after Love on issues like health care, immigration and preserving federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

How Will Candidates Talk About President Trump?

Debate moderators for Utah’s Senate race and the 2nd Congressional District have included several questions about President Donald Trump, forcing Republican candidates to navigate the issue with care.

Trump’s favorability numbers are particularly low in Utah, where his style and temperament have clashed with the state’s sizable Mormon population. According to a new poll last week, a plurality of Utahns, 50 percent, now disapprove of the president’s performance.

In last week’s debate between Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Jenny Wilson, Romney sidestepped a question on whether he stood by his previous criticisms of the president.

“I’m not going to characterize specifically my comment in that regard in the past,” Romney said. “I’m going to talk about the future and where we’re going at this stage.”

Love has criticized Trump for comments he made earlier this year about African nations and Haiti, where Love’s parents are from. But she has also touted the administration’s tax cuts and de-regulatory agenda.

“It’s an important issue for voters in Utah,” said Karpowitz. “It is an important question for Mia Love, because one of the things that’s going to be in the minds of voters is the responsibility of Congress in checking or constraining the president.”

Karpowitz said Love will have to walk a fine line in order to address those concerns.

“Mitt Romney tried to avoid it — he was very wishy-washy, and that was striking because his criticisms of candidate Trump had been so much more fulsome,” he said.

Do Debates Even Matter?

Barring a major gaffe by either candidate, the debate may not be the final word on the 4th District race.

“The race is not likely to be won at the debate,” said Karpowitz.

But it can reinforce impressions about candidates, remind them of their partisan leanings and clarify positions on issues that can help solidify voter decisions.

Karpowitz said the 2018 midterms are likely to be determined more by voter impressions and reactions to national issues such as the economy, the recent Supreme Court battle and President Trump.

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