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For months, Republican gubernatorial challenger Jonathan Johnson has accused Gov. Gary Herbert of dodging debates. Now the GOP candidates for governor will square off in their first full-fledged debate, set for April 11.

The Utah Federation of Republican Women will host the event, scheduled for 9 a.m. at Little America. The event will feature Herbert, Johnson and fellow GOP challenger Nate Jensen.

"I am pleased Governor Herbert has finally agreed to a debate," Johnson said in a statement. "This will be a great opportunity for Utahns and delegates to compare the candidates for governor side by side. I look forward to a lively dialogue on policies where Governor Herbert and I differ, such as various tax increases, Common Core [education standards] and Utah's growing dependence on the federal government."

Herbert spokesman Marty Carpenter also called it an opportunity for voters to see distinctions between the candidates.

"Now that the legislative session and bill-review period are over, Governor Herbert looks forward to the opportunity to discuss Utah's remarkable economic success, our investment in education and other issues important to the people of our state," he said.

The Republican candidates are trying to win favor with the 4,000 delegates that could decide the party's nominee at the Republican state convention on April 23. If no candidate garners 60 percent of the delegate support, the top two vote-getters will go on the ballot for the June 28 primary.

Herbert has presumably already secured a spot on the primary ballot by gathering 28,000 signatures on petitions, although legal challenges by the Utah Republican Party are pending to the signature-gathering path that could scuttle the process.

The Utah Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Monday on the state GOP's challenge to the signature-gathering avenue to get on the ballot. And a pair of questions are pending before a federal judge challenging the constitutionality of the program.

Johnson had been challenging Herbert to debates for months and went so far as to debate Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis in an effort to gain a platform to speak to the public.

The two appeared at a recent candidate forum with all the major-party gubernatorial candidates sponsored by the Utah Foundation, but the event did not allow interaction between Herbert and Johnson.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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