SALT LAKE CITY – Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams of Utah narrowly lost his bid to win re-election against former NFL player Burgess Owens, allowing Republicans to regain control of all four congressional seats in the conservative state.
McAdams conceded in an online news conference Monday afternoon shortly before The Associated Press determined Owens had won the closely watched race in the suburban Salt Lake City congressional district.
Owens won by less than 1% of the votes in a district that has seen razor-thin margins over the last decade.
McAdams acknowledged that he and his opponent have differences in political philosophy. But he said he will continue his work through the end of his term to ensure a smooth transition. He also urged both Republicans and Democrats to come together and reconcile their differences so they can improve the country.
“My campaign was centered around a rejection of extremism and the need for leaders who will put the needs of the people they represent before any political party,” McAdams said. “I am deeply humbled by the support I received from so many Utahns who share that vision and want them to know that while we did not prevail, I remain committed to that ideal.”
Owens is a Republican who has been a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump. The former NFL player helped the Oakland Raiders win the 1980 Super Bowl and later converted to the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church.
He is a frequent Fox News guest who has come under scrutiny for other media appearances linked to QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory that has increasingly crept into politics.
His spokesman Jesse Ranney has said Owens doesn’t believe in the theory.
Trump congratulated Owens over the weekend, saying in a tweet: “Great going Burgess, you continue to be a STAR! ”
Owens took to Twitter Monday afternoon to thank McAdams and the people of Utah for the opportunity to serve.
“I promise to be an open ear for all Utahns and to serve with all I have,” Owens wrote. “Now, it’s time to get to work.”
During the Republican primary, Owens handily won a crowded field by running to the right of his opponents. He has disagreed with athletes kneeling during the national anthem in support of Black Lives Matter during appearances on Fox News.
The district was held until two years ago by Republican Mia Love, who was the first Black Republican woman elected to the U.S. House. She was critical of Trump at times, including when he used an expletive to refer to her parents’ home country of Haiti.
McAdams is a moderate and former mayor of Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County who was part of the so-called blue wave that won control of the U.S. House for the Democrats in 2018, when he defeated Love by less than 700 votes.
He voted to impeach the president, a decision he stood behind Monday while saying he didn’t know how it might have affected the election.
“What the president did was wrong and he needed to be held accountable for his actions that I think weakened our country and jeopardized our national security,” McAdams said.
Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.