4th District Republicans debate economy, COVID-19 ahead of June primary election

20200601 UT04 Debate

Largely absent from the debate among the four Republicans hoping to win the nomination in the 4th Congressional District was any discussion of their potential opponent in November, Democrat Ben McAdams. Instead, the four spent most of their time on Monday trying to burnish their conservative bona fides, cozying up to President Donald Trump and attacking Marxists, socialists, Antifa and other perceived threats to America.

Former NFL player Burgess Owens, former radio talk show host Jay McFarland, Utah State Rep. Kim Coleman and businessman Trent Christensen met in the first, and probably only, televised debate before the June 30th primary election where they made their case to voters.

Coleman won the delegate vote at the GOP convention in April, while Owens, McFarland and Christensen qualified for the primary ballot through gathering signatures.

Owens was clearly the most partisan of the bunch. He’s currently the front runner in the race according to polling from UtahPolicy.com and KUTV 2News. He repeatedly threw red meat to Republican voters, saying Democrats in Washington were held in thrall by Marxists and socialists, whom he described as enemies of America while heaping praise on President Trump.

“Our enemy is Marxism and socialism,” he said in response to a question about how to bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. “The days of Ronald Regan and Tip O’Neil are over. We’re dealing with people who hate our country.”

At the other end of the spectrum, McFarland leaned heavily on his experience hosting a radio talk show and painted himself as the moderate choice in the race. 

“Voters in this district chose a moderate Democrat in 2018. What makes you think they’re going to choose an extreme conservative this time? They’re not,” he said, clearly gesturing toward Owens. 

Rep. Coleman stressed her roots in the district, pointing out that McAdams does not live inside the boundaries of the 4th District (he doesn’t have to). She also highlighted her six years on Utah’s Capitol Hill. 

“I’ve lived in the district for most of my adult life. I have a proven conservative record from my six years in the legislature. We’ve outsourced our representation to someone who doesn’t live in the community,” she said.

Christensen, who was a top fundraiser for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, discussed his business experience as the reason he should get the GOP nod at the end of the month.

“I know how to create jobs. You need to send someone to Washington with business experience who can take on the tough issues we’re facing. I can help President Trump do that,” he said.

The four discussed the weekend violence that rocked the nation in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Owens suggested the violence was the fault of outside groups, like Antifa. Coleman suggested community policing would foster better relations between law enforcement and citizens. Christensen believes Congress should give police forces the funding and support to help them root out bad actors in their midst, while McFarland said Congress was failing to lead out, instead opting to point the finger of blame elsewhere. 

All of them agreed that Congress needs to do more to support small businesses and end the economic turmoil from the COVID-19 pandemic as more than 40 million Americans have lost their jobs since March. 

The four candidates leveled quite a bit of blame on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not doing enough to provide economic relief. Christensen said any further economic aid for states should be tied to whether they move to open up their economies.

“We need a carrot and stick approach,” he said. “We should provide one last round of stimulus, but tie it to states being open by June 15th. If they don’t, then they don’t get money.”

Christensen, Coleman and Owens said they did not wear a mask in public to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, saying it was a matter of personal liberty. 

“Who is telling you to wear a mask,” said McFarland, the only candidate to say he wears a mask in public. “Practicing personal liberty requires you to do so responsibly and not put others in danger.”

The candidates were in accord that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed, instead letting free-market forces lower the skyrocketing costs of healthcare. 

The four also wrung their hands over the nation’s skyrocketing debt, which stands at nearly $26 trillion, and said that the fix would require cutting popular programs like Medicaid and Social Security.

“I’m embarrassed by the debt,” said McFarland. “Think about what we could do with the money we’re spending on servicing that debt.”

“We have to elect people who will take a leadership role,” said Christensen, who advocated for a Balanced Budget Amendment in Congress.

Coleman claimed that discretionary spending in Congress, which counts for about a third of all spending, is the primary driver of the increase in debt. As a legislator, Coleman is currently in the process of cutting the state’s budget due to an anticipated revenue shortfall due to COVID-19. She said that will prepare her to make hard decisions once she gets to Washington.

“We have to decide what things we need, and what things would be nice to have, but aren’t necessary. We’re looking at everything, all the way down to someone’s pet project,” she said.

Some might question the strategy of embracing President Trump, especially since Utah’s 4th District is the least Trump-friendly in the state according to polling from Y2 Analytics for UtahPolicy.com and KUTV 2News. 

Statewide Trump leads presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by just three points, but Biden leads Trump by 5 percentage points in the 4th District, 43-38 percent. Trump’s job approval rating is also underwater in the district, with just 43 percent either “strongly” or “somewhat” in favor of his job performance, while 49 percent disapprove of how he’s currently handling his job. 

Ballots start hitting mailboxes in the next week ahead of the June 30th primary election.