Update: Burgess Owens has claimed the GOP primary race for Utah's 4th District Congressional seat, the Associated Press reported late Tuesday.
SALT LAKE CITY — Burgess Owens snagged a big, early lead with 43% of the vote to be the Republican pick to challenge the state’s only Democrat in Congress for the 4th District seat in the fall general election, according to initial primary results released late Tuesday.
Of the other candidates in the race, Kim Coleman received 24% of the vote, Jay Mcfarland got 22%, and Trent Christensen got 11%.
Owens’ lead was good news for the former NFL player in a race that pundits had earlier pegged as a possible toss-up — though results won’t be official until the canvass in three weeks, and estimates put possibly 100,000 ballots still to be tallied.
Owens did not claim victory late Tuesday — but he told the Deseret News he’s “very confident” in his early lead, even though he wants to wait for more ballots to be counted.
“We’re very, very excited,” he said. “This is a district that both parties need — the Democrats need it to keep their chaos, and we need it to keep our country and our culture.”
No matter the results of the primary, Owens said he and his opponents all have the same goal. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning the seat back,” he said.
Owens said there are still “a lot of ballots” to be counted, so he’s holding off claiming victory until his campaign crunches the numbers, but he acknowledged his 19 percentage point lead could be difficult to “catch up, but I want to be very sure.”
But at least one of Owen’s opponents conceded and handed Owens the victory Tuesday night.
“I congratulate Burgess Owens and his team on running a great race,” Christensen said in a statement to the Deseret News. “The civility between the candidates was a model for how races should be run. I wish Burgess the best as he moves forward to the general election. It’s more important now than ever that we beat Rep. Ben McAdams, win this seat back for the Republicans, and get Nancy Pelosi out of power. We can put this country back on track, and I’ll do everything I can to help make that happen.”
However, Mcfarland, who lead Christensen, didn’t concede the race.
“These are still early results,” Mcfarland said. “The goal of this campaign is to bring civility to our political world. That’s what we’ll fight for. We’ve changed a lot of hearts and minds along the way and will continue to do so.”
Coleman’s campaign did not return a request for comment Tuesday night.
The official winner of the Republican primary will challenge McAdams in his first election since he narrowly unseated former Rep. Mia Love two years ago in what is expected to be Utah’s most competitive general election race in November.
McAdams, who beat Love by less than 700 votes in 2018, has been labeled one of the nation’s most vulnerable members of the Congress running for reelection. His bid for reelection has already been targeted by national Republican and Democratic groups battling for control of the U.S. House. It’s a must-win congressional district for both parties.
Ahead of the primary, pundits have had a tough time predicting the winner with no contenders surfacing as a “clear standout,” as Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said in an interview with the Deseret News earlier in June.
The GOP primary for the 4th District race hasn’t attracted much attention, overshadowed by the hotly contested race for the Republican nomination for Utah’s governor, the global COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing national unrest over police violence.
But the winner of Tuesday’s primary will win the backing of the Republican Party in a contest that’s likely to be highly competitive.
An April Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that voters in the 4th District, which includes parts of Salt Lake and Utah counties, were split over reelecting McAdams, but more than two-thirds were undecided about which of the then-seven Republicans in the race they supported.
The four contenders for the GOP nomination all pitched themselves as the strongest candidate to challenge McAdams.
Owens, who grew up Black in the segregated South, said the race is about empowering Republicans “to get our country back” from what he has described as “enemy” Marxist and socialist-driven policies. The former football player for the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, author and frequent guest on Fox News has said he has learned “values that make this country work,” including love for the country, god, respect for authority, women and education.
For Coleman, she has said it’s her “solid record” on conservative issues as a state representative since 2014 and her reputation as a “strong platform Republican” who cares about “fundamental constitutional issues” and fights for free speech. Coleman was also endorsed by Love, the last Republican to hold McAdams’ seat.
Mcfarland, longtime host of the “JayMac News Show” on KSL Newsradio, has argued he’d be a tougher opponent for McAdams because he’s able to draw support from moderate voters. He’s pitched himself as a candidate that is striving for “civility” in government and someone who can “grow the conservative base.”
For Christensen, he has said it’s his ability to speak to issues “substantively” that sets him apart from the other candidates. As CEO and president of VentureCapital.org, which trains entrepreneurs how to raise funds, and a former Zions Bank vice president, Christensen has said that ability comes from his business background. He has pitched himself as the candidate with the know-how to bounce the economy back from the ravages of COVID-19.