Live candidate debates slated despite Coronavirus

Gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. traded views at a tech summit in January. When they meet next for a live event hosted by the Utah Debate Commission, both candidates will practice social distancing.

SALT LAKE CITY – Candidates in the Republican and Democratic state primaries are scheduled to have good old-fashioned, face-to-face debates in June.

Although those candidates’ faces will actually be six feet apart, they will be in the same location at the studios of the Utah Public Broadcasting System on the University of Utah campus.

“I think this will feel like a traditional Utah Debate Commission event,” said UDC spokesperson Nena Slighting, suggesting that viewers of the debate broadcasts on June 1 and 2 probably won’t even notice the precautions being taken to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.

“Safety for everyone involved will be our paramount concern,” Slighting added. “We will still adhere to all state, local and federal social distancing rules. So, we will have candidates separated by at least six feet in the studio space and we will have no audience at the event.”

The UDC schedule calls for the four candidates on the GOP gubernatorial primary ballot to debate at 6 p.m. on June 1. They are Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and former Utah GOP Chair Thomas Wright.

The Democratic candidates in the running to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop will debate at 3 p.m. on June 1. They are Jamie Cheek of Ogden and Darren Parry of Logan.

The GOP candidates vying for their party’s nod for the post of state attorney general will debate at noon on June 2. They are incumbent Attorney General Sean Reyes and Utah County Attorney David Leavitt.

The Republican candidates on the primary ballot for the nomination in the 1st Congressional District will debate at 3 p.m. on June 2. They are Kerry Gibson of Ogden, Blake David Moore of Salt Lake City, Bob Stevenson of Layton and Katie Witt of Kaysville.

Due to statewide social distancing and self-isolation guidelines to slow the spread of the Coronavirus, all political campaigning in Utah has been conducted via online technology since mid-March. At present, the UDC debates are the only scheduled events where candidates will appear together live. The debates will be broadcast over Facebook Live and local television outlets.

The UDC is also scheduled to host a nationally televised debate between Republican and Democratic vice presidential candidates in October.

The UDC is a consortium of politically neutral stakeholders that facilitates independent debates among qualified candidates for statewide and federal offices during each election cycle.

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