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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Debate Commission announced Thursday that debates in the primary races for governor, attorney general, and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd congressional districts will be held in June at the PBS Utah studio at the University of Utah.
“We will still adhere to all state, local and federal social distancing rules,” the commission’s executive director, Nena Slighting, said. “So we will have candidates separated by at least six feet in the studio space. And we will have no audience.”
Slighting said viewers watching the debate, expected to be broadcast live by local TV stations and streamed online including on Facebook Live, shouldn’t notice any difference as a result of precautions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I think this will feel like a traditional Utah Debate Commission debate,” she said, adding that “safety for everyone involved is our paramount concern.”
Utah’s primary election is June 30. The debates will be held June 1 and 2.
On June 1, the four Republicans on the primary ballot in the 4th Congressional District — state Rep. Kim Coleman, former NFL player Burgess Owens, former KSL Newsradio host Jay Mcfarland and nonprofit CEO Trent Christensen — will debate at noon.
At 3 p.m., 1st Congressional District Democratic primary candidates Darren Parry and Jamie Cheek will debate, followed at 6 p.m. by the four Republicans on the gubernatorial primary ballot: Lt Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright.
Then on June 2, the Republicans on the primary ballot in the attorney general’s race, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, will debate at noon, followed at 3 p.m. by the 1st Congressional District Republican primary candidates, Kerry Gibson and Blake Moore.
“The Utah Debate Commission is excited to bring primary debates to the residents of Utah, especially during these critical times,” said former state Democratic lawmaker Karen Hale, the commission’s co-chairwoman. “The debates will help voters make informed decisions about who to support for offices at the state and federal levels.”
Former Republican state Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said the “primary debates are a great opportunity for every voter in Utah, but especially for first-time voters, to hear candidates discuss the critical issues facing Utah and to listen to them share their vision for the future.”
The commission, a consortium of higher education institutions, media organizations, and business and community leaders, describes its purpose as “facilitating an independent system of debates among qualified candidates for statewide and federal offices each election cycle.”