This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Salt Lake City may not host a Republican debate after all.
Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner, wouldn't commit to the March 21 event during a news conference Friday morning, saying: "I think it is time to end the debates. I didn't know about a debate in Salt Lake City."
He said he thought the CNN debate Thursday in Miami, the 12th such showdown of this Republican primary season, was a perfect cap, more substantive than past debates.
"We've had enough," he said, shortly after picking up the endorsement of former candidate Ben Carson. "The networks want them; I don't think any of the candidates want them at this point."
The Republican National Committee announced the addition of a Salt Lake City debate Feb. 20 when it appeared likely that the GOP contest would still be competitive in late March.
The national party has signed a deal with a TV network and secured a location in Salt Lake City, but it has yet to release that information publicly. Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans said more than 50,000 people have requested tickets so far.
If Trump refuses to appear, it is possible that the RNC will pull the plug.
"If the candidates are not in favor of doing it, then there is no reason to do it," said Bruce Hough, Utah's RNC committeeman, "but Donald is just one."
Trump skipped an Iowa debate on Fox News in January, but that was before voting started. Since then, he's grown a significant lead among the delegates, though there's no chance any candidate will lock up the nomination by the time Utah's Republicans caucus March 22.
The next contests, on Tuesday , are key. If Trump sweeps in states such as Ohio and Florida, he could have a stranglehold on the nomination. But if candidates such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio win their home states, Hough said, it could change Trump's thinking about more debates.
He joked that Trump may want to stop debating because Thursday night's tamer, policy-focused discussion could have worn him out.
"He had to really bite his tongue a few times to try to be a little more presidential," Hough said. "Maybe that was a little too much work."
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, noted Trump didn't close the door on a Salt Lake City debate.
"Tuesday's results are bound to influence his final decision," Sabato said. "Is another debate in his interests? That's how Trump will evaluate it."
Even if Kasich and Rubio lose and drop out, Sabato said, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the clear second-place candidate, would likely demand a series of one-on-one debates with Trump.
Sabato speculated that Trump might not be excited about a Salt Lake City debate because this is where Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, delivered his speech blasting the billionaire businessman, and Trump "surely understands that the reception for him at the Utah debate might be underwhelming."
No matter what happens with the debate, Utah voters can support their favorite candidates during caucus meetings on March 22, and they may even have a chance to meet them. Evans said that Cruz, Rubio and Kasich all plan events in the state, though he is unsure whether Trump would do the same.
"One way or another," Evans said, "we'll have these presidential candidates all over Utah next week."
The public can find out where the Republican and Democratic meetings in their area will be held by going to caucus.utah.gov. Republicans are also holding an online vote. To participate online, register at utah.gop by Tuesday.