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Moderate Democrats Take On Red States


Now for all the focus on how the Democratic Party is shifting to the left nationally - if Democrats take control of the House, it may be because of moderate Democrats winning in Republican districts. Take Utah's 4th Congressional District. It is deep red. And according to a recent poll, Republican Congresswoman Mia Love and Democrat Ben McAdams are in a dead heat. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: In this year of deep partisan splits, it's almost jarring to hear Democrat Ben McAdams answer this question about President Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How do you view how the Trump administration is doing right now?

BEN MCADAMS: You know, I think mixed reviews.

DETROW: The mayor of Salt Lake County, Utah, criticizes Trump, for sure, on immigration policy, health care and other fronts. But he's a lot more measured and cautious about it than most Democrats running for Congress this year. In a year where many in the party are talking about impeachment and single-payer health care, he likes to talk about burdensome regulations.

MCADAMS: I will work with the Trump administration when I think it's good for this country and when it's good for Utah. I'll be there. You know, I think we do need an infrastructure package to invest in local roads and bridges, and I want to be part of that.

DETROW: That's all no accident. The county official and former state senator knows that while other Democrats debate the tactics of exciting the party base versus appealing to Republican voters to switch sides, he's got no choice. Republicans have a 13-point advantage in this district.

MCADAMS: The votes I need to win this election, I've gotten twice before - just need to reassure those people that, you know, I'm not going to change. I'm going to be the same person as a member of Congress that I've been as mayor.

DETROW: He's also got to convince them to dump Mia Love, a two-term congresswoman who got immediate national attention by being the first-ever black woman elected to Congress as a Republican. Love is conservative. But running in a tight race, she repeatedly frames herself as a pragmatist.


MIA LOVE: Going into Washington, I know exactly who I'm working with. I have built relationships on both sides of the aisle.

DETROW: Love is aggressive about defending the Republican tax overhaul and the ultimately failed push to repeal the Affordable Care Act. She's also quick to point out that in several high-profile moments, she's criticized Trump most notably on immigration, where she helped force a floor vote on a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and when she publicly scolded him for using a slur to describe predominantly black countries during a White House meeting on immigration.


LOVE: As a matter of fact, I'm the only one in this delegation that has stood up to the president when he has done something wrong and have worked with him when he has done something right.

DETROW: Republicans occasionally chiding Trump's statements then backing him on policy has been a major theme over the past two years. That's something McAdams keeps pointing out, saying that voters should look at Love's votes and actions, not her occasional statements.

MCADAMS: I don't get credit for what I try to do or what I say I want to do. I'm judged based on what I accomplish, and we need to hold the same standard to our representatives in Congress.

DETROW: As the race has tightened, Love has done what many other Republicans are doing, framing a vote for McAdams as a vote for Nancy Pelosi. That's despite the fact McAdams says he would not vote for Pelosi to be speaker.


LOVE: Now my opponent may be naive and say he's not going to vote for Nancy Pelosi. But if you watch what's going on there, if she - if this seat turns over and they win the House, Nancy Pelosi will be speaker of the House.

DETROW: McAdams insists he'd keep his independence in Washington.

MCADAMS: What I see is - if the Democrats do take back the House, it's because a lot of people like me will win their elections. And these are people for whom party does not come first, but solutions comes first.

DETROW: As Democrats last election after election in recent years, the main casualties were moderates like McAdams. But many of the candidates in the swing districts the party is trying to flip this year don't fit in with Democrats' national leftward shift. They aren't calling for single-payer health care or impeachment. So if election night goes well for the party, the next big question is how the return of more moderates shifts party dynamics, especially if they're the ones responsible for Democrats winning back power. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Salt Lake City.

(SOUNDBITE OF RJD2'S "JUNIOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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