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SALT LAKE CITY — Republican Burgess Owens boosted his lead over Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams in the latest 4th Congressional District results released late Thursday as ballots cast in the largely by-mail election continue to be counted.
Owens, a former NFL player, author and frequent Fox News guest, now has 2,284 votes more than McAdams, 47.99% of the vote to McAdams' 47.16%, after a second round of Utah County ballot results were released. The district includes portions of Salt Lake, Utah, Sanpete and Juab counties.
McAdams, a first-term congressman, had been in front Wednesday by more than 2,600 votes.
The race flipped Thursday with the first release of new numbers from Utah County that put Owens just over 2,400 votes ahead. When Salt Lake County, where most of the district's residents live, released new results, Owens' lead dropped to just 18 votes.
But then Utah County released more results that expanded Owens' lead again. Utah County officials had said there were still an estimated 7,700 ballots from 4th District voters there still outstanding and warned that some may not be completely processed and counted until next week.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said there's more than 154,000 by-mail ballots and 11,000 provisional ballots still to be counted there, but it's not clear how many are from 4th District voters. The number is expected to be in the tens of thousands.
Both campaigns made it clear the race is far from over.
"It's tight, we always knew this would be a close one," Owens' campaign spokesman Jesse Ranney said. "We're excited to see more ballots come in."
Andrew Roberts, McAdams' campaign manager, said, "This has been and continues to be a close race. We've seen these numbers go back and forth before, as additional votes are tallied. We appreciate the careful and thorough job performed by Utah's election clerks and we remain confident that Ben will ultimately prevail."
McAdams, then the Salt Lake County mayor, was able to defeat two-term GOP Rep. Mia Love in 2018 by winning only in Salt Lake County.
The 4th District race is considered one of the nation's most competitive because the district leans Republican but is represented by Utah's only Democrat in Congress. Two years ago, it took two weeks before the race was called for McAdams, who ended up less than 700 votes ahead of Love.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said he believes McAdams will be reelected once all the votes are counted, but compared it to the close race for the White House between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden.
"This is a country and a community that is split. The 4th District, as I've said before, is specifically designed to be difficult for a Democrat to win," Merchant said, blaming the boundaries drawn by the GOP-controlled Utah Legislature a decade ago. "It just comes down to being patient and waiting."
He said the Utah Democratic Party anticipated that because Salt Lake County's larger number of outstanding ballots will take longer to tabulate, McAdams would be "behind for a couple of days. I don't even view 18 votes as being behind. It's essentially a tie."
Utah GOP Chairman Derek Brown said it could be sometime next week before a winner can be declared in "arguably the most negative campaign ever run in the history of Utah, and the most expensive."
He predicted the margin of victory will turn out to be even smaller than it was two years ago.
"We have always known that this would be a very close race," Brown said. "I do remain optimistic. But it's cautious optimism."
More than $22 million has been spent on the race, much of it by outside Republican and Democratic groups on attack ads that filled Utah airwaves for weeks. That total includes the $8.5 million McAdams and Owens reported spending just through mid-October.