ELECTIONS

A $6.5 million request and cancelation concerns: the presidential debate is coming to Utah

Feb 5, 2024, 5:07 PM

Image of President Biden and former president Trump debating ahdead of the 2020 election. The 3rd p...

FILE - Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question as former president Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. The two front-runners for their party's nominations, former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, have not yet committed to ant presidential debates. (Morry Gash, Associated Press, Pool)

(Morry Gash, Associated Press, Pool)

SALT LAKE CITY— Last week, the University of Utah asked for $6.5 million to prepare for the third presidential debate in October, 2024. The decision to provide funding is up to the legislature.

The potential impact

According to a funding request form, university officials pitched the idea that “the State of Utah will experience significant economic windfall and exposure from hosting a presidential debate.”

“We anticipate roughly 100 million people around the world watching this particular debate,” Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the U, told Utah’s Morning News.

“And this will be a lot of time for students to participate in this event,” said Perry. “Like we did when we hosted the vice presidential debate in 2020, there was a big student focus for the seats, the participation, even being included in the planning for the event.”

More expensive?

However, the 2024 presidential debate in Utah is asking much more from the legislature than past events have.

The 2020 debate between former Vice President Mike Pence and now-Vice President Kamala Harris cost around $6 million, according to the Associated Press. The state of Utah provided $3.5 million for that debate according to the AP.

When making the funding request to a legislative committee on Thursday, Perry said that most of the money for this year’s debate would go toward IT, law enforcement, and infrastructure needs. 

“There are considerable costs for hosting a debate like this,” Perry said.

What if it doesn’t happen?

The elephant in the room is that the debate may not happen. One sign is that the Republican National Committee voted unanimously in 2022 to pull out of the non-partisan Commission on Debates, which has run presidential debates since 1987. 

Polls currently show a rematch is likely between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

Former president Trump has skipped every Republican primary debate as well as 2020’s second debate against President Biden. On the other hand, President Biden has not committed to joining the debates.

Perry told Utah’s Morning News that those involved in planning the debate are keeping a possible cancelation in mind as they go forward.

“We’re building into all those contracts a way to recoup costs that do not end up being needed.”

With that in mind, Perry said that the show must go on for those planning Utah’s debate.

“Until someone says they’re not going to do it,” said Perry, “the only thing you can do is to operate as if it’s going to [happen].”

He also said an Oct. 9, 2024 debate at the University of Utah looks likely.

“As recently as December,” said Perry, “(former) President Trump said that he’s still willing to do these debates. You know, this is part of the dialogue. It’s a candidate decision, not a party decision.”

Aimee Cobabe contributed to the reporting of this story.

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A $6.5 million request and cancelation concerns: the presidential debate is coming to Utah