What voters can expect from tonight’s 4th Congressional District debate

Oct 12, 2020, 6:20 AM
4th Congressional District, Burgess Owens pulls ahead 2,095 votes in Utah’s 4th District...
Rep. Ben McAdams, and Republican challenger Burgess Owens both pictured in 2020 file photos. (Scott G Winterton and Steve Griffin, Deseret News)
(Scott G Winterton and Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Representative Ben McAdams (D) and Republican challenger Burgess Owens are getting ready to face off in tonight’s 4th Congressional District debate, a race that’s being closely watched across the country. 

But what can voters expect to hear when the candidates take their podiums? 

Salt Lake Community College Political Science Instructor Sarah Reale says voters in Utah’s 4th Congressional District, which McAdams won in 2018 by a very slim margin, have been voting in hard to predict ways for years. 

“A lot of people [in the district] may vote for presidents in one party and vote for their congressional representative in another party. I think this debate is an opportunity for a lot of undecided voters to help clarify who they want to vote for,” Reale says.  

Current polling shows McAdams and Owens running neck and neck.

It’s also a chance for many voters to hear from the candidates for the first time, as COVID-19 has put a stop to traditional campaigning. 

“The typical door-to-door, walking the neighborhoods, as well as rallies and showing up at the state fair and having a corn dog and talking with constituents, it just doesn’t happen because of [COVID-19],” Reale says. 

McAdams positions himself as a moderate Democrat, but Reale says he’ll probably face questions about his voting record and ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). 

“He has to try and say that he is an independent voter, and he doesn’t just always vote with the Speaker of the House because I think that matters to a lot of voters in Utah,” Reale says. 

Burgess Owens, on the other hand, will probably be asked about comments he has made during his time as a media personality, such as those seen as critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“I think there’s going to be a lot of hard-hitting questions about what he believes and what he believes is best for that district, beyond what he thinks nationally with the Republican Party. And, I think he’ll be challenged on that,” Reale says.  

One swing voter group that may play a role in this year’s election are college students, who Reale says are more centrist and tend not to like either the Republicans or the Democrats. 

“They care about issues of student loan debt. They care about healthcare. They care about the rising cost of housing. They care about all those things that I think are going to become really important for a lot of candidates in the future,” Reale says. 

Those issues may also show up in the debate, as students from Salt Lake Community College have been invited to submit questions. 

KSL NewsRadio will have all-day coverage of the 4th Congressional District debate on Monday, which will air at 6:00 p.m.

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What voters can expect from tonight’s 4th Congressional District debate