Salt Lake presidential debate canceled after Trump, Kasich drop out

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Republican presidential debate in Salt Lake City was canceled Wednesday after two of the three remaining candidates said they wouldn't participate.

Both GOP front-runner Donald Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced they were bowing out of Monday's scheduled debate at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

That left only Texas Sen. Ted Cruz willing to take the stage in what would have been the 13th debate among the Republicans running for the White House since August 2015.

"Obviously, there needs to be more than one participant, so the Salt Lake City debate is canceled," Michael Clemente, Fox News' executive vice president, said in a statement.

The cable channel official said the Republican National Committee offered the debate to Fox News to host "provided there were enough candidates actively campaigning" after the latest round of primary elections.

After Tuesday's big primary elections in Ohio, Florida and other states, only three GOP candidates remain: Trump, Kasich and Cruz. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who lost his home state, dropped out of the race.

The debate cancellation won't stop at least Kasich and Cruz from campaigning in Utah in advance of Tuesday's presidential preference elections being held at Republican and Democratic party caucuses and, for GOP voters, online as well.

Kasich is holding three town halls in Utah on Friday, at Utah Valley University's Grande Ballroom in the Sorensen Student Center at noon; at the University of Utah's Olpin Student Union Ballroom at 3:30 p.m.; and at Davis High School at 6 p.m.

Another Kasich event is planned for Saturday in St. George.

Cruz is expected to hold multiple events in Utah on Saturday, including an appearance with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, the first U.S. senator to endorse his presidential run. The other members of Utah's congressional delegation all backed Rubio.

Trump, who has languished in fourth place in Utah polls, has no campaign events scheduled in the state.

Both Kasich and Cruz are running television commercials in Utah, as is Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. And Club for Growth, an anti-tax group, begins airing an anti-Trump commercial in Utah on Thursday.

Jason Perry, head of the U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said because this year's presidential race is so hotly contested, Utah can't be overlooked by the candidates, especially the Republicans.

"When you look at the delegate count, every state becomes important," Perry said. "Even if Donald Trump is not feeling like it's worth his effort to spend time in the state of Utah, other candidates do."

Two weeks ago, the GOP's 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, condemned Trump as a fraud and a phony in a speech at the U., and urged voters to keep him from winning enough votes to secure the party's nomination.

Perry said he didn't believe it was Romney's strong stand, seen as pushing for a contested national Republican convention so another candidate could be chosen, that caused the billionaire businessman and reality TV star to stay away from Utah.

"I think the cancellation of this particular debate was not just because Trump didn't like what Romney had to say. This is more about him and his campaign feeling like he wants to spend time in other places, where he has a better chance of getting votes," Perry said.

Trump said Wednesday he's speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., instead of coming to Utah for the debate.

After Trump decided to skip Salt Lake, Kasich said he wouldn't debate here, either.

Kasich's aides blamed Trump for their decision to pull out of Monday's debate.

"Trump scuttled the debate," Kasich's top campaign strategist, John Weaver, told the Deseret News on Wednesday. Weaver tweeted that if Trump changes his mind about the debate, "we will be there. Positive contrasts nicely with division."

While Trump continued to claim Wednesday he was unaware of the Salt Lake debate, Hough said all of the campaigns had been notified and updated repeatedly. He called it "implausible" that Trump wouldn't have known the debate was scheduled.

"Nobody even told me about it," Trump told Fox News' "Fox and Friends" Wednesday when asked if he'd be at the Salt Lake debate. "I'm doing a major speech in front of a very important group of people that night and it was scheduled a while ago."

Trump said he had already announced he believed last Thursday's CNN debate was the final during the primary season. The Salt Lake debate was added to the debate schedule last month by the Republican National Committee.

Utah Republican officials had long questioned whether Trump would be part of the debate and what impact his absence would have. Trump also told reporters last week that he was not aware of the debate in Salt Lake City and did not plan to be there.

Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said in a statement the party "was always aware that the Republican presidential debate ran the risk of being canceled after March 15 pending breaking developments with presidential candidates."

Evans said although the party is "saddened by the news" the debate won't be held, "we are extremely pleased that Utah was chosen as a debate location. Utah can no longer be considered a flyover state. … We will move forward."

More than 50,000 Utahns had signed up with the Utah GOP in the hopes of getting debate tickets since the debate was announced on Feb. 20. On Monday, Fox News was announced as the media partner and the Salt Palace as the venue.

Because of the interest in the debate, Evans said the state party has extended the online registration process to participate in the online presidential preference election until midnight Thursday. More information is available at

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said the debate cancellation is "unfortunate." Utahns "won't be able to hold the remaining Republican presidential candidates accountable in person," he said.

Contributing: Ladd Egan, Keith McCord, Andrew Adams

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