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After SLC debate canceled and Republican field narrows, is Utah politically relevant?

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Posted at 9:33 PM, Mar 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-16 23:33:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Republican presidential debate in Utah has been canceled. Marco Rubio, the candidate with the endorsement of most of Utah’s delegation, dropped out. But, if you think the political focus on the Beehive State disappeared within a day, think again.

“I think Utah is going to matter a great deal,” said Boyd Matheson, former Chief of Staff for Utah Senator Mike Lee.

Matheson may be right, and you can see proof every time you turn on the television or flip on the radio. Over the next six days, hundreds of thousands of dollars are expected to be spent on presidential campaign ads. Utah is usually left out of the political gravy train, but not this year.

“I think the airwaves will be pretty solid between now and Tuesday night in terms of people trying to get their message out,” Matheson said.

Besides a contested Republican primary that has stretched into the spring, Utah may be getting more attention because of its dislike of frontrunner Donald Trump.

Another spotlight on Utah is the state Republican party’s unusual way of assigning delegates. Utah Republicans split the delegates proportionally based on votes, with one catch. If any candidate grabs more than 50 percent of the votes, the state becomes a winner-take-all.

“Now that Rubio is out, one of the candidates is more likely to get 50 percent, and if they can do that in Utah, then they’ll win all of the delegates,” said Nancy Lord, the Republican Precinct Chair for Bluffdale 1.

She believes Senator Ted Cruz is in the best position to capture votes lost when Rubio dropped out.

“If the Salt Lake County Central Committee meeting a few weeks ago is any indication, I would say Cruz is going to do exceptionally well here,” Lord said.

Matheson agreed.

“How many of those Rubio voters really do end up going to Senator Cruz? And I think it’s going to be a large number,” he said.

He believes Utah could become a pivot point for Cruz, marking a model other states could follow, potentially putting the Beehive State in the crucial position for the national picture in determining the winner on the Republican ticket.