Analysis: Can Ben McAdams beat Mia Love in November?

The marquee matchup in Utah’s 2018 midterm election is Rep. Mia Love vs. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. 

There’s no doubt Love is vulnerable this year. Polling shows Love is below 50% support in the district, which is usually not where a two-term incumbent member of Congress wants to be. Anywhere over 50% is generally considered the “re-elect zone” for incumbents.

National Democrats have targeted this seat as one they hope to flip this year, adding it to their “Red to Blue” program. That means the DCCC, the Congressional Democratic campaign arm, will provide fundraising support for McAdams’ bid to oust Love.

But, it’s going to take a lot more than money for McAdams to beat Love in November.

According to district-level data from L2, a political data company, the active voters in Utah’s 4th CD are 42.66% Republicans, while Democrats make up just 13.48% of that population. Non-partisan voters make up the remaining bulk of the district at 40.34%. 

It’s not going to be enough for McAdams to mobilize Democrats. He has to find a way to not only win a majority of the independent vote but pull some Republican support away from Love as well. polling shows Mia Love with a 6-point lead over McAdams (49-43%), while McAdams says his own internal polling makes the race a statistical tie. 8% of 4th district voters are undecided. That’s likely where the race will be decided.

The partisan breakdown of that polling shows 80% of Republicans say they would vote for Love in November, while 13% of GOP voters would cast a ballot for McAdams.

McAdams does get 98% of the Democratic vote and wins a majority of non-partisan voters (52-38%). To knock off Love, he needs to improve his standing among Republicans and independent voters.

Both Love and McAdams get good approval ratings from voters in the 4th District, but McAdams is slightly higher.

  • 55% of voters say they approve of Love’s job performance while 39% disapprove, a net positive approval of +14.
  • 62% of voters approve of McAdams’s job performance while just 16% disapprove, which is an impressive +46 net approval. However, nearly 1/4 of voters in the 4th CD say they have no opinion of McAdams. 

That name recognition problem is likely the reason Love started attacking McAdams even before he secured the Democratic nomination on Saturday. Love has already hit McAdams on abortion and tied him to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, likely in an attempt to define McAdams in the minds of those voters who don’t know him before he has a chance to introduce himself.

McAdams also can’t count on a right-wing candidate to pull Republican support away from Love this year as there are no other candidates in the race. In the 2016 election, a Constitution Party candidate was able to pull nearly 5% of the vote, while three right-wing candidates grabbed more than 3% of the balloting. Love won both of those contests. In 2012, a Libertarian candidate pulled 2.6% of the vote, likely leading to Love’s narrow loss to Democrat Jim Matheson that year.

Trump won the district in 2016 with 39.1% of the vote to Clinton’s 32.28%. Independent candidate Evan McMullin pulled 22.48%. 

McAdams is going to have to massively outperform Clinton’s 2016 numbers in Salt Lake County to have a chance at winning. 

According to district level results from Daily Kos Elections, Clinton barely won the Salt Lake County part of the district, pulling 36.28% to Trump’s 35.98%. McMullin captured 21.57% in the Salt Lake County portion. 

Republicans are expecting Mitt Romney to give Love’s re-election chances a big boost. They may have a point. In 2012, McAdams won the Salt Lake County Mayoral race with Romney on the ballot as the GOP presidential nominee, but the Daily Kos numbers show Romney won the Salt Lake County portion of CD4 by a huge margin with 63.58%. However, Love lost a squeaker of an election that year to Democrat Jim Matheson.