GOP presidential debate in SLC canceled

Posted at 10:46 AM, Mar 16, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY -- Monday's GOP presidential debate scheduled here in Utah has been canceled, FOX 13 News has confirmed.

The decision to cancel the debate followed Donald Trump's announcement on "FOX & Friends" that he would not be appearing. Instead, he said he would be appearing at a pro-Israel group's event on Monday night. Trump dropping out led John Kasich to indicate he would not be appearing at Monday's debate.

"We had hoped to contrast Governor Kasich's positive inclusive approach to problem solving with Trump's campaign of division," said Kasich chief strategist John Weaver in an emailed statement to FOX 13. "If he changes his mind, we will be there."

Following phone conferences between FOX News Channel and the Republican National Committee, the event was canceled, representatives for the Salt Palace confirmed. Utah Republican Party officials told FOX 13 it was Kasich's decision to back out of Monday's debate that killed it. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would have been the only candidate on stage.

"We're sorry it's not happening," said Bruce Hough, the Republican National Committeeman for Utah.

The Utah GOP said it received more than 50,000 ticket requests to attend Monday's debate.

"We thank those who have expressed interest in attending the debate and are saddened by the news however, we are extremely pleased that Utah was chosen as a debate location. Utah can no longer be considered a flyover state as recent events have proven," Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said in an email. "We will move forward and look ahead to Caucus on March 22, 2016."

Fox News Channel also issued a statement regarding the cancellation:

"On Feb. 20, the Republican National Committee announced that a GOP presidential primary debate would be held on March 21 in Salt Lake City. They offered that debate to Fox News Channel to host, provided there were enough candidates actively campaigning. This morning, Donald Trump announced he would not be participating in the debate. Shortly afterward, John Kasich's campaign announced that without Trump at the debate, Kasich would not participate. Ted Cruz has expressed a willingness to debate Trump or Kasich -- or both. But obviously, there needs to be more than one participant. So the Salt Lake City debate is cancelled."

Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox said Trump wasn't doing well in polling here, and questioned if that was why he decided not to show up.

"This is not friendly turf for him and hopefully he'll do worse now," Cox said in an interview Wednesday with FOX 13. "I think Trump finishing a distant third here in the state would be the exact message to send -- Utah being the designated driver for Republicans in the country."

The Lt. Governor, who supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, said he won't back Trump, even if he were the eventual GOP nominee.

"I think he's disingenuous. I think he's dangerous. I think he represents the worst of what our great country stands for," Cox said.

Asked who he would vote for, Cox said he might write in someone.

"I won't vote for Hillary, but I won't vote for Trump, either," he said.