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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Republican Party is watching the results of Super Tuesday as the outcome could affect the importance of the Utah's March caucuses and the participants of a scheduled GOP debate.
"I think tomorrow we will have a Trump and anti-Trump momentum," said Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans.
This is the election cycle since Utah ditched its June presidential primary and created party-run caucuses for Democrats and Republicans with accompanying presidential preference polls. Evans said the move was to give Utah residents a bigger voice in the nominating process.
"We will be part of the decision making this time around," Evans said. "We are at a sweet spot in the presidential race where we are just right after halfway, and so our 40 delegates are going to be critical, I believe, in determining who the presidential nominee is going to be."
The Republican National Committee announced last month that it would be holding a presidential debate in Salt Lake City on March 21. The debate would be the first presidential debate Utah has hosted.
"If it looks like Rubio and Cruz are getting closer to Trump, it's going to make it a very exciting debate," Evans said.
Two RNC-sanctioned debates are scheduled ahead of Utah's event: Detroit on March 3 and Miami on March 10. With his frontrunner status unchallenged and delegate count mounting, Trump has threatened to opt out of future debates.
"If Trump were way ahead in the delegate count, I think it's unlikely he would agree to do this debate," Matt Burbank, associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, said of Utah's upcoming GOP debate.
Even if Trump racks up the delegates on Super Tuesday, Burbank says the GOP establishment will want to keep another candidate in the primary race as a viable alternative to Trump.
"I think there's going to be a fair amount of pressure on those other republicans to stay in the race," Burbank said.
During a roundtable discussion at the U of U on Tuesday about the presidential primaries, the four political science professors on the panel answered many questions about the reasons behind Trump's appeal and the future of the primary season.
"If we do see a huge landslide, we might see some of the Republican candidates drop out," said assistant political science professor Tabitha Benney, "and we might see a little bit of that fragmentation sort of coalescing around candidate other than Trump."
The RNC has yet to announce a location, sponsor or media partner for the Utah debate. For the debate to happen, political observers say the Republican primary race needs to still be active.
"The tricky part with all of this is how many resources do the candidates have? How willing are they to continue to push?" Burbank said. "It would be a very big benefit for the state, for the Republican Party and for the candidates to come here and have an active debate."