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President Obama to visit Utah Friday

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah political leaders hope for a chance to bend President Barack Obama's ear during his first trip to the state as commander-in-chief.

Obama is scheduled to arrive at Hill Air Force Base on Friday for an event on the economy, according to the White House. He will be in Louisville, Kentucky, the day before, also for an event on the economy.

The administration has not released an agenda for the Utah visit but said details would be available in coming days. State officials weren't sure why the president intends to land at Hill. The trip also appears to have caught Utah's congressional delegation off guard.

Utah is one of two states Obama has not visited since taking office in January 2009. South Dakota is the other.

"He saved the best for one of the last visits," said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon. "We're excited to have him come."

Local political leaders excited for visit

Gov. Gary Herbert said he reminded Michelle Obama that the president had not traveled to Utah when he was in Washington recently for National Governors Association meetings. Herbert will become the organization's chairman this summer.

Herbert, a Republican, said he'd like to talk to the president about issues "near and dear to our hearts," including public lands, national parks, endangered species and hotly debated Medicaid expansion plans over which state lawmakers reached an impasse.

He saved the best for one of the last visits. We're excited to have him come.

–Peter Corroon, UT Democratic Party

The governor said he plans to greet Obama on the tarmac and then "hopefully we can expand upon that and have some opportunity to have some quiet time to talk about some of the issues that impact Utah."

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has visited the White House about 40 times and spoken with the president nearly 10 times during his two terms in office. The mayor described his relationship with Obama as "warm" and said he expects he'll have some time with him.

Becker said he has anticipated Obama's visit for a long time. "I know that he knows that we want him here," he said.

The mayor said Obama is well-versed in Salt Lake City's initiatives on sustainability, homelessness and public transportation. He said Obama is the first president who truly comes from an urban background.

As local governments, I can tell you pretty much across the board, we see this president as the greatest friend to communities that we've ever had in this country.

–Mayor Ralph Becker, SLC

"As local governments, I can tell you pretty much across the board, we see this president as the greatest friend to communities that we've ever had in this country," said Becker, who introduced Obama at the National League of Cities convention earlier this month. Becker serves as the organization's president.

Becker said he's talking with the White House about details of the president's agenda for the trip.

"We want to make sure it's a great visit for him in Salt Lake and the state of Utah," he said.

Corroon said it's about time Obama came to Utah given it has one of the strongest economies in the nation.

"We feel the middle class is something that we as Democrats focus on, and I think it will be an important message for him to reiterate how important the economy is and how Utah has been part of the economic recovery," he said.

Little known about impending visit

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, whose district includes Hill Air Force Base, said he hasn't received an invitation to the event nor has any member of the state's all-Republican congressional delegation.

"So far, we've had a statement that he's coming to do something at Hill," he said. "Everything is still kind of in the dark. We'll have to see what happens."

Bishop said Hill "seems like an odd venue to talk about the economy, unless he's going to talk about military issues, in which case I would be enthralled with that."

Democratic presidential candidates have mostly viewed heavily Republican Utah as a flyover state.

"Obviously, Utah is not a Democratic state so in terms of politics, there's less of a reason for him to come here. But in terms of a great state with great people, we just appreciate him coming here," Corroon said.

While running for president, Obama held a campaign rally in Park City in August 2007. The hastily organized event came between stops in Atlanta and Elko, Nevada. It attracted about 500 people outside the town's visitors center.

Obama canceled a planned January 2008 campaign appearance in Utah in deference to funeral services being held that weekend for the late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

The Utah Senate passed a resolution this month urging Congress to pass legislation giving fourth-graders and their families free admission to a national park in the 2015-16 school year. The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, also invites Obama and his family to visit Utah's five national parks.

Contributing: Peter Samore and Nkoyo Iyamba

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