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4th district congressional debate mcadams owens national attention
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Owens – McAdams congressional race, debate draws national attention

SALT LAKE CITY — The candidates for Utah’s 4th congressional district, Burgess Owens (R) and Representative Ben McAdams (D), squared off in their one and only debate amid national attention focused on the race. 

Owens, a former NFL player, is challenging incumbent McAdams for the seat he won by under 700 votes two years ago. 

Healthcare reform a key debate issue

The candidates traded barbs over health care reform in the debate in Salt Lake City. McAdams accused Owens of not providing a real plan.  

“Simply saying that you want to protect people with pre-existing conditions is not going to protect them,” McAdams said, pointing to his sister with type 1 diabetes as an example of someone who needs protection. “We have to keep the protections in place right now.” 

Owens pushed back against the assertion and pointed out people with pre-existing conditions already have legal protections. 

“I am a cancer survivor,” Owens said. “I understand what pre-existing conditions are all about. And at the end of the day, we have right now, already in place, an executive order by President Trump and Congress has passed laws that said this will be protected. So to bring this up as an issue is using fear.”

Congressional candidates disagree on systemic racism 

Owens said Utahns refute the idea that racism is systemic, citing his own experience in the community. 

“The most powerful thing that we have is our ability to communicate to each other, talk to each other, care for each other, that — and no one does it better than we do,” Owens said. “So, no. There’s not systemic racism, people. I grew up in that environment. I can tell you with a family that has the color of a rainbow, my personal family, that’s not the case.” 

McAdams disagreed. 

“I hear from people across our community who feel that doors aren’t open to them, that they may try as hard as they may try to get ahead, that they’re not afforded the same opportunities,” McAdams said. “And so I look internally, ‘What can I do to contribute to healing the divisions that exist in our country?’”

National attention on Utah’s 4th congressional district

The McAdams-Owens contest is on the radar of national pundits; outside spending has paid for ads attacking each candidate. 

While the most recent financial information for the candidates themselves only reflects fundraising and spending before June 30, political action committees, or PACs, ramped up their spending both for and against the two candidates in September. A flurry of attack ads surfaced on local television stations, radio stations and even social media.

KSL TV reported groups and candidates have spent $3 million on political Facebook ads in Utah alone since July 1. While the majority of those funds went to advertising related to the presidential election, over $130,000 appears to be focused on the 4th district congressional race. 

Current polling shows a tight race for Utah’s 4th district, with McAdams holding slight lead over Owen. 

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