Salt Lake presidential debate canceled after Trump, Kasich drop out

Cruz reportedly holding multiple events in Utah on Saturday.

Published: Wednesday, March 16 2016 8:55 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at his presidential primary election rally in Berea, Ohio, on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Kasich wife, Karen, and daughters, Emma, left, and Reese, right, listen. Kasich won the Ohio primary.

Tony Dejak, Associated Press

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.

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