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Whether Utah gets a spring showdown between Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney will be almost entirely in the hands of the Utah Legislature, but at least one senator thinks changing the primary date is a good idea.
"I think we have a rather unusual opportunity to actually be a factor in the selection of the Republican nominee. I think that's a little bit unusual," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.
"If we have the opportunity to weigh in in a presidential year when we have at least two candidates who are getting national traction with direct Utah ties, I think it is important for Utah to participate," he said.
And, Bramble said, that holds true even if it ends up costing between $2.5 million and $3 million to stage the special presidential primary.
The Tribune reported Monday that Romney advisers have been pushing for Utah to move its GOP primary now scheduled for June 26, the same day as the state's other primary elections to earlier in the spring.
That would likely set up a high-profile confrontation between Romney and Huntsman, a conflict that polls this year have shown Romney would likely win, dealing a blow to Huntsman in the state he governed.
Huntsman, in Utah on Tuesday, said it doesn't matter to him when Utah holds its primary. "We'll be competitive either way," he said, although he noted that there could be economic benefits to an earlier primary, as he said there were in 2008, when Utah held its primary in February.
On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed a bill to partially fund that state's first-in-the-South primary contest, shifting the cost to the parties.
Bramble first pitched the idea of moving the primary up in a closed meeting with Republican senators two weeks ago. At the time, he wasn't supporting any presidential candidate, but he signed on with the Romney camp a week later.
"It has nothing to do with any campaign, either the Huntsman campaign or the Romney campaign," Bramble said.
But some legislators are balking at the cost to taxpayers that would come with staging an earlier presidential primary.
"We're still balancing budgets," said House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, a Huntsman supporter. "If these operatives for people who want to represent the Beltway suggest we're to spend $3 million to have two primaries within a couple months, that's a 'nice-to-have,' that's not a 'have-to-have,' and we're still in have-to-have mode in our budgets."
Senate President Michael Waddoups said Monday that he doesn't see the point in spending the money to move the primary up. "I think you'd have quite a bit of convincing to do," he said.
Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, who is a Romney supporter, said it's important for Utah to have a voice in the presidential process if it can afford it.
"It's something I think we should consider because Utah knows both candidates very, very well," he said. "It's going to be tough to find the money. We have a lot of needs in this state. I think it would be valuable for the state to weigh in on this race. That said, we need to balance it with the other priorities."