This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
For the first time ever, presidential candidates will face off in Salt Lake City. And the Republican debate, to be held March 21, could very well be a pivotal moment in this highly watched, crowded and unpredictable contest.
The Republican National Committee announced the additional debate on Saturday, though it is still finalizing the location and which TV network it will partner with. The debate will take place after the Super Tuesday contest involving 13 states on March 1 and just one day before the presidential caucus in Utah, where Republicans can vote in either neighborhood meetings or online as long as they register early.
Republicans will also hold a primary in Arizona and a convention in American Samoa on March 22. After that, the next GOP showdown would be on April 5 in Wisconsin.
Donald Trump, the billionaire celebrity who has dominated the primary season, is likely to participate in the Utah debate, having won South Carolina's contest on Saturday. The question will be how many of the other candidates will still be in the race.
James Evans, the chairman of the Utah Republican Party, is thrilled the state will host a debate. He guessed that three candidates would still be in the hunt, maybe four, though Evans said that minutes before former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced he was suspending his presidential campaign.
"Utah is certainly the example of what Republicanism is and the debate coming here exemplifies that," he said.
The state party has repeatedly pushed the RNC to consider Utah for a debate and had previously made a bid to host the national convention, which the party awarded to Cleveland.
Gov. Gary Herbert said Evans and the party "should be commended for their work in bringing this historic opportunity to our state.
"We are excited to welcome the Republican Party to Utah at such a critical time in the nominating process."
The RNC hasn't released any information on the ticketing process, but Evans said the state party will have a bloc of tickets it will distribute. Details will be posted on Utah.gop some time next week.
At that same website, Republicans can sign up to vote in the presidential caucus online by clicking on "pre-register now." Otherwise, they can vote at their neighborhood meeting on March 22. Only registered Republicans can participate in the caucus.
Political historian Ron Fox said Utah has never hosted a presidential debate of any kind. The closest thing to a debate came in 1992 when Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush gave back-to-back speeches before a meeting of National Guard members.
The 2016 debates have received historic ratings and the candidates have grown increasingly combative, particularly between the leading candidates Trump and Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
The RNC has three debates planned between now and the Utah event, with the first taking place on Thursday in Houston. After that, one will be held in Detroit on March 3 and another in Miami on March 10. The party has a tentative plan to hold a debate in New York in April if a candidate hasn't secure the nomination yet.
"The additional debate in Utah and the possibility of holding one in New York ensures that Republican voters and activists will continue to see our candidates in action," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. "Whether we ultimately face the Clinton machine or Bernie Sanders, the more people see our candidates the better."
Herbert hasn't endorsed a candidate but many of Utah's other prominent Republicans have. Utah's four House members, along with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and state House Speaker Greg Hughes, have endorsed Rubio. Sen. Mike Lee hasn't endorsed, though he's a supporter of his close colleagues, Rubio and Cruz.
Sen. Orrin Hatch has backed Jeb Bush.
Utah supporters of Trump are planing a media conference for Monday at the state Capitol.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are also vying for the GOP nomination. Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are the two Democratic candidates.
Reporter Michael McFall contributed to this report.