The first real showdown between the two major candidates remaining in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination will take place Tuesday in three states, including Utah.
But neither Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts nor Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina is investing a lot in what might as well be "Forgotten Tuesday." That's frustrating Utah Democrats who were hoping that their primary election would have national impact.
"I've got to admit I'm a little discouraged," said Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch, who's the spokesman for the Kerry campaign here. "What I'm hearing in the national press is that Utah, Idaho and Hawaii don't exist."
About one-third of the Utahns surveyed for a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll said they plan to vote in Tuesday's primary. Of those questioned on Feb. 19 by Dan Jones & Associates, 49 percent back Kerry. Only 23 percent said they're likely to vote for Edwards.
Kerry said he's taking Utah's primary election on Tuesday "very seriously" even if he isn't going to make a campaign stop here.
The Massachusetts senator spoke to reporters in Utah by telephone Sunday from Atlanta. Georgia Democrats go to the polls on March 2, the so-called "Super Tuesday."
Kerry announced new support in Utah from Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and four other Democrats who had backed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who dropped out of the race last week.
Anderson had endorsed Dean earlier this month, along with legislators Scott Daniels and Jackie Biskupski, Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Bradley and party official Nichole Adams. All now back Kerry, along with nearly three dozen other Utah Democratic leaders.
"I have the strongest organization on the ground in Utah," Kerry said in a raspy, tired-sounding voice. "I've been running a national campaign. I'm doing the best I can to get to as many places as I can. There are other states I'm also not going to be able to get to."
The candidate said he's offering "a plain, common-sense, mainstream American values approach to the choices we have in this country" and that there "there is nothing conservative or mainstream Republican" about the Bush administration fiscal policies.
"I don't think there are many people in Utah who wouldn't exchange today's economy for the economy we had during those eight years we had under Bill Clinton," Kerry said. "That's exactly what I'm going back to."
While Utah Democrats are holding a statewide election Tuesday, party members in Idaho and Hawaii will caucus that day to choose delegates to the national convention this summer. Altogether, though, the three states have only 61 delegates, including Utah's 29.
That means, of course, the national focus is on the "Super Tuesday" contests in New York, California and eight other states on March 2 that will choose 1,151 delegates nearly one-third of the total available nationwide.
Still, the party faithful here believe there's enough at stake that the candidates should be making campaign swings through Utah, or at least sending big-name surrogates to rally support.
"Am I going to be disappointed if the they don't come? Yeah," state Democratic party chairman Donald Dunn said. "What I don't want is for it to send the perception that the West doesn't matter. I don't think that's what they believe."
He said the party needs to establish a Western states primary, when all the states in the region would go to the polls on the same day.
Either candidate would have been smart to come to Utah, said Maura Carabello, Edwards' spokeswoman here. "I think you are a savvy campaign if you focus on a state like Utah where you'll get a lot of votes just for showing up."
She hasn't had much luck convincing the Edwards camp that Utah is worth the effort, even though a visit by the candidate could be the difference between a first- and a second-place finish. So far, Edwards has won just one state, South Carolina.
"They have an awareness of (the opportunity). They've talked about that, and that this is a good state for them," Carabello said last week.
"This would be a huge win for him. It's a small enough arena that you could do it," she said.
So small, in fact, that Edwards has no campaign organization in Utah except for Carabello, a member of the state party's executive committee who was recruited to represent him.
An Edwards campaign bus was spotted in Cedar City last week, but The Associated Press reported that Utah was only a lunch stop on the driver's way to Los Angeles, where he was set to pick up the senator.
Five members of Kerry's campaign staff are in Utah for the primary, but they're maintaining a low profile. Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, is making an appearance in Idaho, and although there was talk that Robert Kennedy Jr. might have been headed to Utah to campaign for him, the only Democrat coming is Henry Cisneros, who served as Bill Clinton's housing secretary.
Cisneros, one of the party's most prominent Hispanics, is scheduled to appear on behalf of Kerry at the Utah Democrat's annual fund-raising dinner tonight. He may also make a public appearance.
Hatch agreed that any effort matters in a state that's dominated by the Republican party. "Democrats out here adore getting any attention, because we're not used to it," he said. The primary could have been changed "dramatically by Edwards coming to the state."
There are more candidates on the Utah ballot than just Kerry and Edwards, but only Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is still in the race. Kucinich, who has the endorsement of Utah's progressive Democrats, made a brief appearance Sunday at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Although still in the race, Al Sharpton is not on the Utah ballot because he did not apply to be.Comment on this story
The results of Utah's primary will determine who gets 23 of the state's 29 delegate votes during the party's national convention. The other six are so-called "super delegates," state party officials who are not committed to a candidate.
Under the complex rules that govern the Democratic party's presidential nominations, even a candidate who is no longer running can earn a share of the delegate count by winning at least 15 percent of the vote.
That might happen for Dean, who had a strong organization in Utah. Kucinich's supporters are also pushing hard to meet that threshold, although the candidate's Utah spokesman, Joe Inman, said voters may just follow whoever they see as the frontrunner come Tuesday."They're just jumping on the bandwagon," Inman said. "I fear voters will mark their ballots for the last person they heard about."