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Trump's popularity may be boosted by Utah visit despite split over monuments

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL  |  Posted Nov 29th, 2017 @ 9:07pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump's trip to Salt Lake City on Monday to announce reductions in the size of two of the state's national monuments may give him a boost in Utah, despite the split over the issue.

"His popularity level here, I think has a chance to improve," Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Wednesday. "I think there's just an upside for him."

Polling has shown Utahns are divided over whether the president should shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, something Perry said will be evident during Trump's visit.

"We are going to see both sides in clear and vivid detail next week," he said. But he said the president will benefit by being seen as "understanding what we have here in the state" by coming to Utah to lay out the new boundaries.

A protest is planned at the state Capitol on Saturday, with demonstrations against Trump anticipated on Monday. Also on Saturday, supporters of smaller monuments are reportedly holding a rally in San Juan County.

A recent UtahPolicy.com poll by Dan Jones & Associates found that 52 percent of Utahns favored shrinking the size of the monuments, which add up to more than 3 million acres, while 40 percent were opposed.

Utah Dine Bikeyah, a nonprofit group seeking to protect Bears Ears, said 98 percent of the Utah Chapter Houses of the Navajo Nation voted in favor of a resolution supporting the current boundaries.

Pollster Dan Jones said he expects it will help Trump to come to Utah and show some interest in the state, "but you never know. He might say something while he's here that could hurt his approval rating."

Trump's time in the state likely will be limited by logistics to Salt Lake City, but he is expected to be greeted by many Utahns from the parts of the state directly impacted by the monuments.

"We're excited. We can't wait," Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock said. Pollock told KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright he expects the limited areas within the monuments used by "all of those rock lickers and tree huggers" will remain intact.

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Just how much of the monuments Trump will cut out Monday remains to be seen, but it will follow recommendations that have not been made public from U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who toured the sites earlier this year.

Boyd Matheson, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute think tank, said the president's visit may not be "a massive game changer" for him in Utah, but it is "a good win for the state in terms of local voices being heard."

Trump won the White House by saying he'd speak for forgotten Americans, Matheson said, so the Utah trip also helps him nationally as he continues to push a tax cut through Congress.

"He shows up here on Monday, doing the act of giving back to the states, back to the hard-working men and women of the country," Matheson said. "It's a good visual, but it's also good from a policy and principle standpoint."

While details of the president's visit have yet to be released by the White House, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Trump will meet with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and tour the church's Welfare Square while he's here.

"It's a good chance to show the president and those with him that we do a lot in Utah that's way beyond what any other state does," Hatch told KSL Newsradio. "Utah is a special place, and I think he can learn a lot from us."

Hatch, who said he extended a personal invitation to Trump to sit down with church leaders while coordinating the trip to Utah with the White House, has been a loyal supporter of the president.

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Trump won Utah, considered one of the most Republican states in the country, in last year's presidential election with just 45.5 percent of the vote, his lowest total in states he won.

Some Republicans in Utah had a hard time backing Trump, who finished a distant third in the March 2016 presidential preference caucus vote despite a campaign stop in the state.

UtahPolicy.com publisher LaVarr Webb, who writes a column for the Deseret News, said Hatch might be the big beneficiary of Trump's trip. The senator, first elected in 1976, has yet to decide whether he's running for another term in 2018.

"He is really promoting this trip and taking a lot of credit for it," Webb said. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if it ends up being a big deal for Hatch, for the president to strongly endorse him" for re-election.

One of Trump's toughest critics during the presidential race, Mitt Romney, is said to be readying a run for Hatch's seat next year. Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, is one of Utah's most popular politicians.

That could help lead Trump to tell Utahns on Monday that they need to send Hatch back to Washington, D.C., for an eighth term in the Senate, Webb said. "Hatch would probably welcome that."

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