We welcome the two major candidates for vice president of the United States to Utah for what may be the most significant such debate in history on Wednesday.
Utah is unique in many ways, and the debate needs to reflect some of this, including questions concerning issues of importance to the state and the Mountain West, a region often overlooked in national politics. But Utahns also understand this debate has a greater meaning.
Vice presidential debates seldom determine the outcome of an election, but this one holds a unique significance. First, the ages of President Donald Trump (74) and his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden (77), are unprecedented in terms of presidential politics. One of these running mates will be a heartbeat from the presidency for four years, in a nation where the average life expectancy for males is 76.
For another, the president has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and this will be the first debate since that news broke late last week. For a third, this comes on the heels of a raucous, perhaps even circus-like, presidential debate during which little of substance was discussed.
Pressure will be on both Democrat Kamala Harris and Republican Mike Pence to elevate the tone of the campaign. The audience will, of course, be national. Both candidates will appeal to voters in swing states, in particular, and that will especially be key considering the uncertainty over whether future debates will take place.
But the candidates need to respond to matters of importance to this area, too.
Utah is a state in which 75% of the land, or more than 35 million acres, is owned by the federal government. Here, issues about the maintenance of federal lands, including mineral extraction, and the tug between wanting to protect natural wonders and the presidential decrees that create national monuments, are complicated matters that affect many rural residents.
Here, air quality is a continual concern. Because of the unique geography of the Wasatch Front and other high desert valleys, harmful particulates — including those that drift here from other states — can affect health.
Here, families are a priority. Utah has the highest marriage rate in the nation, according to census figures. This leads to a host of positive social outcomes, but it also creates challenges, particularly when it comes to public education, something Utahns consistently rank as their top concern.
More importantly, we hope both candidates leave Utah with a sense of what works here. This is the state with the highest percentage of volunteers. That relieves burdens on several government programs, even as it increases health and well-being, which may be why a recent survey ranked Utah second in overall happiness.
Utah consistently ranks as the top managed state in the nation, which ought to interest leaders in Washington. Its unemployment rate is second lowest in the nation at 4.1%. Its poverty rate, pre-pandemic, was third lowest, and its Moody’s credit rating is AAA. Austerity and fiscal responsibility are important to people here, especially where government is concerned. Those factors contribute to a growth rate among the highest in the nation.
In short, while the state is known as sitting at the crossroads of the West, it could serve as an example during a time when the nation itself is at a crossroad.
We’re glad both candidates decided to spend a bit of time here before Wednesday’s debate. We hope they look around carefully.