ST. GEORGE – Two candidates for Utah Attorney General were present during what was referred to as a “modified debate” at Dixie State University Wednesday evening. However, while Republican incumbent Sean Reyes was on stage, the podium next to him was vacant due to the sudden withdrawal of Democratic opponent Jon Harper from the race that morning for unspecified medical reasons.
So who was the other candidate?
Attorney and Utah Libertarian Party Chair Andrew McCullough was present, though sitting in the audience rather than appearing on stage with the incumbent.
Unlike Reyes and Harper, McCullough did not qualify to join the debate due to not meeting the Utah Debate Commission’s threshold in polling. Still, he had already planned to attend so he could be at least seen and heard, he said.
“All of a sudden people want to talk to me,” McCullough said prior to the debate. “When I woke up this morning I was absolutely nobody. It’s kind of exciting.”
McCullough did express concern for Harper’s health, which was cited as the reason for his withdrawing from the race. As a result of that withdrawal though, McCullough said he’s been flooded with media attention.
“For me and the Libertarian Party, it’s very exciting,” he said. “And now we’ve got a real opportunity to be heard in the statewide race.”
As a Libertarian, McCullough described himself as a person who believes in an open and free society, versus how he described Reyes, who he said was a “law and order” kind of guy.
“If you’re going to smoke marijuana, it’s your business and none of mine,” McCullough said, highlighting one of the issues Libertarians have become known for – the legalization of marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use.
Despite not being able to participate in the debate, McCullough nonetheless took the opportunity to hand out campaign information and signs to interested parties.
When asked if McCullough should have had the chance to debate Wednesday night, Reyes said he wouldn’t second guess the Utah Debate Commission concerning its rules.
“Would he have brought some great perspectives? Sure,” Reyes said of McCullough. “The Utah Debate Commission is a great organization and in order to have integrity, you have to abide by the rules, and I’m not going to second guess my friends on the debate commission.”
As to being a solo act on the debate floor, Reyes said he was disappointed and concerned.
“I was worried about Jon,” he said. “Having him not just miss the debate but withdraw from the race, that made me concerned for him.”
Reyes added that campaigns can be grueling, particularly for the candidates involved, and said he hopes that Harper’s health issues, whatever they may be, won’t be long-term.
“We really wish our best to Jon Harper and his family,” Reyes said.
At the beginning of the debate, which was changed to a town hall format and thus dubbed a “modified debate” by organizers, Bruce Lindsay, a longtime KSL TV news anchor who acted as the moderator, said the commission had a reason for keeping the debate going despite the loss of a candidate.
The purpose behind not calling off the event is so a candidate does not have the power to sink the debate by not showing up, he explained, adding the debate goes on with or without the candidate.
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