SALT LAKE CITY | Backed by dramatic mountain peaks, Elizabeth Warren stopped in Utah on Wednesday to discuss her public-lands plan, including a promise to restore broader protections for two of the state's high-profile national monuments if elected president. It's a move that would not endear her to the state's GOP establishment but could appeal to voters across the West angered by President Donald Trump's decision to shrink the monuments.
Warren's plan puts her among the few Democratic candidates so far talking about public lands, a hot topic in the region. Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, said shrinking the two expansive Southwestern monuments opens up more land to potentially damaging extraction projects.
"These national forests are our national treasure for everyone in this country, not here simply to be exploited by mining companies and drilling companies," she said.
The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, panned her plan as a "government takeover" that would hurt the economy. GOP state and local leaders have long been deeply frustrated with federal management of the public lands that make up much of the state and cheered Trump's December 2017 decision to shrink the monuments, saying it would allow more land-use flexibility and local control.
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Utah voters, though, are divided on the move that shrunk Bears Ears National Monument by about 85 percent and cut Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument nearly in half, said Jason Perry with the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.
"There are passionate feelings on both sides," he said.
Warren's salvo could also signal a wider slice of the field taking up the issue in the run-up to 2020, he said. Any Democrat will face an uphill battle to make serious inroads in the reliably conservative state, though Utah Republican voters tend to be more wary of Trump than others elsewhere.
Meanwhile, lawmakers' decision to move the state primary several months earlier, to Super Tuesday in March, will likely bring more attention from candidates looking for a boost earlier in the election cycle.