SALT LAKE CITY — First Congressional District candidates Rep. Rob Bishop and challenger Donna McAleer will square off Tuesday in the first prime-time debate put on by the Utah Debate Commission.
The commission, in cooperation with the state's major television stations and universities, will sponsor debates in the four races for Congress and attorney general contested in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 election.
The commission has come under some criticism for not inviting any third-party candidates. Only Democrats and Republicans made the commission's threshold for participation based on a name recognition poll it conducted.
"We're going to have the debates between people who have a shot at being elected so that people can make the decision between those two," former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, commission co-chairman, said Monday on KSL NewsRadio's "The Doug Wright Show."
"You won't have somebody who has undoubtedly something he or she thinks is very important to say, but that won't have any impact on the election," Bennett said.
The commission's board set the threshold at 10 percent, but taking into account the poll's 4 percent margin of error, candidates with 6 percent qualified. Only Democrats and Republicans reached that level.
The closest candidates who did not make it were Libertarian Andrew W. McCullough and Independent American Leslie Curtis, both of whom had 5.3 percent in the attorney general's race.
The commission conducted the survey early in the election season, but Scott Howell, commission co-chairman and a former Democratic state senator, said it's up to the candidates to work hard and get their names out there.
"You cannot be a genuine candidate unless you pay the price," Howell said on "The Doug Wright Show." "The debate commission will not be the campaign for third-party candidates."
McAleer, a Democrat, is making her second run at Bishop, a six-term Republican, in the 1st District. He easily beat her in 2012.
Questions for Tuesday's debate at Weber State University were submitted online by students and residents. The debate commission will also pose questions. Commission spokeswoman Nena Slighting said topics include a wide range of local and national issues.
Several broadcast outlets, including KSL-TV and KSL NewsRadio, will air the hourlong debates live at 6 p.m.
Information on obtaining tickets to attend is available at the Utah Debate Commission's website.
The commission, patterned after the Commission on Presidential Debates, launched in February with a goal to increase voter participation.
Utah has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation, largely because Republican dominance makes for little competition in most statewide races. Incumbents and candidates running ahead in the polls have little incentive to debate their opponents in a public forum.
* * *
1st Congressional District
GOP Rep. Rob Bishop vs. Democrat Donna McAleer
6 p.m. Tuesday
Weber State University
Ballroom B, Shepherd Union Building
2nd Congressional District
GOP Rep. Chris Stewart vs. Democratic state Sen. Luz Robles
6 p.m. Thursday
Southern Utah University
Sterling R. Church Auditorium, Sharwan Smith Student Center
GOP Attorney General Sean Reyes vs. Democrat Charles Stormont
6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1
3rd Congressional District
GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz vs. Democrat Brian Wonnacott
6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7
Utah Valley University
Library Lecture Hall
4th Congressional District
Democrat Doug Owens vs. Republican Mia Love
6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 14
University of Utah
Email: [email protected]