4th District debate didn’t change the race

Democratic Congressman Ben McAdams clearly won the 4th District debate Monday evening, at least on points. He was smoother and much more on the attack than his Republican opponent Burgess Owens.

I don’t have any recent polling numbers on the race, but the fact that McAdams felt the need to attack as aggressively as he did indicates that the race is close. That’s surprising, given the fact that McAdams has dramatically more money to spend than Owens, and enjoys far greater visibility and name ID.

McAdams has his messaging down pat, decrying divisiveness and partisanship, repeatedly talking about failures of both Republicans and Democrats. He praised Gov. Gary Herbert for his coronavirus response, referred to Pres. Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and noted he’s been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

One Democrat on social media said he’s voting for McAdams, but can barely stand his “diet-Republican” positions. As I’ve written previously, McAdams focuses almost entirely on pragmatic solutions, rather than on ideology or values.

Owens, on the other hand, is not very adept at debating the specific issues of the day, and instead is much more of a warrior for conservative values and principles. He continually refers to family, faith, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. He argues that liberal federal policies have hurt minority communities and conservative principles would restore pride and economic opportunity.

Some voters, notably the Republican base, do want a congressman who will go to Washington and fight for conservative ideology. But independent and moderate voters are more likely to support a centrist and pragmatist like McAdams.

During the debate, Owens tried to tie McAdams to liberal Democratic leadership and the more extreme elements of the Democratic Party, but failed to do so effectively.

Owens needed a very strong debate performance to change the trajectory of the race, but didn’t get it. Much will depend on turnout, especially in conservative Utah County. With Pres. Trump on the ballot, voters in both parties are motivated to get and vote.