One election cycle after it hosted a vice presidential debate in 2020, the University of Utah is taking a step up — it will host a presidential debate in 2024, the school announced Monday.
The debate, which will likely feature the Republican and Democratic nominees for president, is scheduled for Oct. 9 at Kingsbury Hall. This is the second time the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization responsible for such debates, has selected the Salt Lake City campus for a nationally televised debate.
Next year’s presidential debates will probably be unique, in that they could feature two men who have served in the Oval Office. President Joe Biden is running for reelection as a Democrat, and previous President Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner.
Gov. Spencer Cox, who has repeatedly posted the sentiment “first party to figure it out wins big” on X, told reporters at a news conference Monday that he would like to see “anybody other than the two frontrunners right now” on the stage next October, adding that he joked that the state would pay more to host the debate if it came with two new candidates.
“I would love to see some new choices,” said Cox, who spent time with Biden earlier this year when the president visited Utah.
Trump, who is facing dozens of felony charges — including for withholding classified documents related to national security and for attempts to overturn the last presidential election — has several GOP challengers who have met for three debates so far this year. He has not attended any of them.
Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and progressive talk show host Cenk Uygur announced last month they are challenging Biden, and author Marianne Williamson has been campaigning against the president for a year. The Democratic Party has canceled its 2024 primary debates, so the candidates will not meet on stage.
“I suspect that the debates and this next election will be very polarizing as the last ones have been,” said Cox, who is also running for reelection next year. “I’m hopeful that Utah will get an opportunity to showcase our ability to do things a little differently.”
Joining Cox at the Monday afternoon news conference were other state and local leaders, including Democratic Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, House Majority Leader Jefferson Moss of Saratoga Springs, and Senate President Stuart Adams of Layton.
They highlighted Cox’s campaign as head of the National Governor’s Association, “disagree better,” with Mendenhall, the only Democratic elected official on stage, saying she can imagine “disagree better T-shirts in the crowd here on the night of that debate.” On Nov. 10, Cox announced his endorsement of Mendenhall’s reelection bid.
Taxpayers will likely foot a multimillion-dollar bill to bring presidential candidates to the Beehive State. Jason Perry, the director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the vice presidential debate cost $6.5 million — $2.5 million of which was allocated by the Utah Legislature.
State lawmakers have not yet allocated money for the 2024 debate, “but university leaders may seek funding support during the upcoming 2024 Legislature,” a university news release said.