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In our opinion: Utah is not a swing state and should focus political and civic energies elsewhere

Published: Thursday, April 24 2014 4:08 p.m. MDT

A community cannot and should not be true to something that it isn’t. The time and energy of our political and business leaders would be better spent focusing on our state's competitive advantages, not chasing after windmills.

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There are times when it is easy for civic leaders in Utah, the 33rd most populous of the 50 states, to lapse into thinking that this state needs to do something different and unique to be relevant to national political debates.

Republicans have been guilty of this. Some legislators put forward a proposal to make Utah the first presidential primary in the nation. Thankfully, the bill died in most recent legislative session.

While we understand the desire for Utah to secure a more prominent role in how presidents are selected, jumping to the front of the primary line is a misguided way to do that.

As a predominantly Republican state, Utah is readily viewed as unrepresentative of the nation as a whole. The rest of the country would likely view Utah’s attempt to usurp New Hampshire’s traditional role as a sideshow, not a legitimate reform of the primary process.

Democrats may now be guilty of the same unrealistic ambitions, or at least those who are stoking expectations that Salt Lake City would be selected as the next host city for the Democratic National Convention. On Tuesday, the party’s national committee released a list of 15 cities from which it will consider bids. “Utah could be the next swing state,” Matt Lyon, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, told Fox13 News.

One has to go back 50 years — to 1964 — for the last time the state has voted for the Democratic, as opposed to Republican, candidate for president. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney won 73 percent of the vote.

There are also logistical concerns about whether Salt Lake City could handle a national political convention. Although the Utah Legislature’s passage of a bill supporting a new downtown convention center hotel ameliorates some of these worries, delegates would need to be spread across more than just Salt Lake City.

“The city definitely has the infrastructure to host the convention,” Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, told the Deseret News, “but because we don’t have the convention hotel built yet — that would be a negative.”

Those same concerns hurt the Utah GOP’s efforts to bring the 2012 Republican National Convention to Salt Lake, and have also foreclosed a 2016 bid. Moreover — at least in the case of the Republicans — civic leaders would be expected to raise about $30 million to defray the cost of hosting the convention. It would be a steep hurdle for Utah’s Democratic Party to raise those kinds of funds.

A community cannot and should not be true to something that it isn’t. Utah ranks extremely high on lists of the most livable places in the country. This is due to the strength of our economy, the strong families in Utah and our collaborative approach to tackling civic problems. While we believe Utah could benefit from more competitive general elections, being a political “swing state” is not Utah’s strong suit.

The time and energy of our political and business leaders would be better spent focusing on our state's competitive advantages, not chasing after windmills.

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