Commission announces moderators for debates in Utah’s five congressional races

Salt Lake Tribune Executive Editor Lauren Gustus will moderate the debate for U.S. House District 4, currently held by Republican Rep. Burgess Owens.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Andrew Badger, Tina Cannon, and Blake Moore at the U.S.. House 1st District Republican primary debate in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 2, 2022. At left is moderator Thomas Wright.

The Utah Debate Commission announced the moderators for the debates in Utah’s five congressional races in 2022 on Thursday afternoon, and they include local media leaders and the head of a policy hub at the University of Utah.

Doug Wright, who previously hosted his own political talk show on KSL Radio, will moderate the state’s most talked about debate — a showdown between Senate candidates Mike Lee, the Republican incumbent, and independent Evan McMullin, who has the support of the Utah Democratic Party. That debate is being held at Utah Valley University on Oct. 17.

The U.S. House District 1 debate between Republican Rep. Blake Moore and Democrat Rick Jones, scheduled for Oct. 10, will be moderated by Kerry Bringhurst, the station manager of Utah Public Radio in Logan. That debate is at Weber State University.

Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson will host the Congressional District 2 debate at Southern Utah University on Oct. 14 between incumbent Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican, and Nicholas Mitchell, the Democratic nominee.

Congressional District 3′s faceoff is being moderated by Natalie Gochnour, the director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. Gochnour advised three previous Utah governors and served as a political appointee in the Environmental Protection Agency and Health and Human Services under former President George W. Bush.

That debate will likely be between Republican Rep. John Curtis and Glenn J. Wright, a Democrat, and will be held on Oct. 6 at Brigham Young University.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s executive editor, Lauren Gustus, will moderate the U.S. House District 4 debate between incumbent Burgess Owens, a Republican, and Darlene McDonald, a Democrat. The debate is at the University of Utah and Oct. 12.

Other candidates from third parties, like the Constitution, Forward, Libertarian and United Utah parties, could be added to the debates if they meet support thresholds set by the debate commission. The commission’s website says its guidelines include being multi-partisan, and the thresholds it sets are “high enough to include viable candidates but low enough to admit candidates who may have a significant chance of acquiring public support.”

Earlier this year, four Republican congressional incumbents, Lee, Stewart, Curtis and Owens, backed out of nonpartisan Utah Debate Commission events in the run-up to the primary election. Some of them complained that the commission had not consulted them in picking a date.

The Utah Republican Party hosted its own debates for three of those races after party Chair Carson Jorgensen demanded the GOP have a say in debate topics and moderators, and the Utah Debate Commission refused.

“It simply doesn’t make sense for the debate commission to decide what issues will be discussed and who will ask the questions,” Jorgensen told The Tribune in May. “This is a Republican primary to be voted in by registered Republican voters.”

“As always, we are working with all candidates and are committed to providing nonpartisan and independent debates as a public service for all citizens of Utah,” the commission wrote in a statement at the time.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported last month that Jorgensen said he doesn’t plan to make the same ask for the general election debates.

“The purposes of the Utah Debate Commission are to educate voters about viable candidates and their issue positions, promote a civil exchange of ideas among the leading candidates, and elevate the discussion of the most important issues confronting the State of Utah,” a news release announcing the moderators said.