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Campaigns Kick Off To Unseat Utah’s Lone House Democrat

Headshots of each candidate cropped into one image
Candidates for the 4th Congressional District include (from left to right) Kim Coleman, Daniel Beckstrand, Jay McFarland, Burgess Owens and incumbent Ben McAdams.

The race for Utah’s 4th Congressional District launched in earnest this weekend, as several candidates held kickoff events, volunteer trainings and started to gather signatures to get on the ballot. 

Stretching from Salt Lake City to Sanpete County, it’s a swing district, which voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 and narrowly elected Ben McAdams, Utah’s lone Democrat in Congress, in 2018.

Six candidates, including a state representative and a former NFL player, are looking to unseat McAdams. Five will compete in June’s Republican primary, while the other will face off against McAdams in the Democratic primary in June.

McAdams has been targeted nationally by Republicans, who see him as a vulnerable Democrat. But his current challengers may not represent a huge threat to the incumbent as they trail him in terms of name recognition and fundraising.

At her West Jordan campaign headquarters, Kim Coleman on Saturday discussed free speech on campus, limiting government spending and deregulation. She also came hard at McAdams for his party-line vote to impeach Trump last month. 

“McAdams and his party shamelessly took this nation to an unprecedented political low by passing two articles of impeachment — without substance. Without legitimacy,” Coleman said. “[He] voted to nullify those 63 million people and the voters of our district … he had the choice between representing this district and the swamp, and he chose the swamp.”

In Herriman, Jay Mcfarland, another Republican candidate and a former KSL Radio talk show host, helped his campaign launch its signature gathering by going door to door.

“I've made it my career of knowing all sides of an issue,” McFarland told KUER while standing in the driveway of one registered Republican household on his signature gathering list. “When you come to a debate or a compromise, if you’re going to get stuff done, you need to know what the other side wants and what they need.”

Former NFL player Burgess Owens’ campaign started training volunteers at a supporter’s law office in Midvale. That included walking volunteers through step by step how to use an app to gather and track signatures. 

“Six months ago, I said I never ever, ever wanted to be a politician,” Owens said. “I now realize that for me to help bring this seat back to the Republican Party … not only will it be great for Utahns but it shows the country the values of Utah.”

While most of McAdams’ challengers are Republicans, there is a candidate running against him in the Democratic Primary. 

Daniel Beckstrand, who’s worked as an office coordinator at dental offices, is running as a progressive, while McAdams bills himself as a moderate. Beckstrand said he supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, pushed by progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

On Saturday afternoon, Beckstrand met up with a small group of his supporters in Sugar House Park to gather signatures.

“There is a group of progressive voices in Utah that isn't being heard,” Beckstrand said. “There's a big group of people here that deserve that voice and that representation.”

As for McAdams, his campaign didn’t have any organized signature gathering this weekend. His campaign manager is working to organize such an event for next weekend, but McAdams said he’s not really focused on the election.

“The best thing I can do right now is just stay focused on working hard and serving the people of Utah,” McAdams said. “And that's the reason that I was elected to begin with, and it's what's going to get me reelected when that time comes.”

Quin Monson, a Brigham Young University political science professor who worked in 2018 as a pollster for the district’s former representative, Mia Love, said as things stand there’s no reason for McAdams to be concerned about his re-election. 

McAdams’ campaign has raised about $1.3 million, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. The next best-funded candidate, Kim Coleman, has raised about $110,000. 

“Without a well-known challenger or a well-funded challenger, Ben McAdams is the odds-on favorite to get reelected,” Monson said. “And that's somewhat surprising in the sense that he only won narrowly in 2018 and is a Democrat representing a very Republican district.”

Monson said the race would get competitive if a bigger name in politics entered, such as Love, who McAdams unseated. She told the Deseret News last week that she’s considering it.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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