There will be presidential debates in Utah - but George Bush and Michael Dukakis will be there in name only.
Utah supporters of Bush for president have accepted a debate challenge made by their Democratic counterparts. In fact, they want to debate more than once - as the Utahns who favor Michael Dukakis first wanted.Bonnie Stephens, co-chairwoman of the Utah Bush campaign, said Tuesday afternoon that they'd like three debates: one on national defense and foreign policy; one on the economy; and one on domestic issues. All the debates should be held within three weeks, Stephens said.
Pat Shea, chairman of the Utah Dukakis campaign, said he's glad to accept the challenge.
Said Stephens, "Frankly, I'm surprised they want to compare the candidates' stands like this. We believe strongly that George Bush's philosophy closely mirrors the philosophy of most Utahns."
Shea said: "We're anxious to debate. We'll show Utahns the Gov. Dukakis who is fiscally responsible, we'll pierce the balloon of credit-card prosperity of the last seven years. We'll show that it is better to have a competent command-in-chief than a facade."
Stephens and Shea met Wednesday to set times and places for the debates. "We hope civic groups will invite us to debate before them, give us a forum. Of course, we won't be speaking for the candidates, we'll only be presenting their positions on the issues," said Stephens.
Polls for the Deseret News and KSL-TV conducted by Dan Jones & Associates show that Bush holds a 5-point lead over Dukakis among Utahns. Ten percent are undecided.
Dukakis visited Utah in June to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual convention. He said then that he isn't conceding any state to Bush - not even Utah, considered the most Republican state in the nation.
Bush has not visited Utah, although Stephens said "we've almost been promised" by the vice president's campaign that Bush will visit in the last two weeks of the election.
But in reality, Bush likely doesn't need to visit the state to win its electoral votes and may well spend his final campaign days inbig, swing-vote states. The Reagan-Bush ticket carried Utah by more than 70 percent of the vote in 1980 and 1984.
Greg Hopkins, GOP executive director, said the state party is pleased to have Bush and Dukakis surrogates debate here. "(The debates) will highlight the differences between the two candidates nationally. And that will help Republican candidates all the way down the (Utah) ballot. If we can closely tie local candidates with the national candidates, that will only help us," he said.