Liljenquist puts on a show in mock debate
Politics • No cardboard cutout, but plenty of embarrassing moments for Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Published: June 8, 2012 11:39AM
Updated: June 8, 2012 07:43AM
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Paul Fraughton | Salt Lake Tribune Dan Liljenquist holds a mock debate against Sen. Orin Hatch using a video clip of Hatch Thursday, June 7, 2012 at the Sons of the Utah Pioneers National Headquarters in Salt Lake City.

Sen. Orrin Hatch was not on the debate stage. Nor was an expected cardboard cutout of him. Hatch’s GOP primary challenger, Dan Liljenquist, joked that even the cutout was too scared to face him — although he volunteered to pose with it in the parking lot.

So Liljenquist “debated” an empty stage Thursday to protest Hatch’s dodging television debates with him. Since Hatch declined to attend the event in person, Liljenquist played videos of Hatch instead to depict his stands on issues.

Of course, Liljenquist chose quotes that Hatch would likely hope that voters would forget — such as one designed to show what he feels about methods to balance the budget.

“I don’t think we have to cut entitlements,” such as welfare, Medicare or Social Security, Hatch said in a video. Liljenquist said that clip was not old. Hatch said it last year — and Liljenquist said it led him to challenge Hatch. “Entitlements are two-thirds of the budget.… I am running on entitlement reform, not away from it,” he said.

Dave Hansen, Hatch’s campaign manager, dismissed the mock debate as a gimmick.

“On the same day Dan is busy putting on a circus sideshow with a cardboard cutout, Orrin Hatch is working [in Washington] to prevent the largest tax increase in history and fighting to take down ObamaCare,” Hansen said.

Hatch’s campaign has said his schedule is too busy to allow for a televised debate — even though Hatch declined offers to tape one in Washington to meet his schedule. Hatch is finding time, however, to pose with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Friday during his visit to Utah.

Liljenquist says the real reason Hatch is dodging TV debates is that enough GOP delegates switched away from him after watching early debates to prevent his nomination at the state convention, and sent the race to the June 26 primary.

The candidates do have a radio debate scheduled on June 15 at 9 a.m. on the Doug Wright talk show on KSL radio (102.7 FM or 1160 AM). Hatch declined offers to have it videotaped and played back later on prime-time TV.

About 200 people attended the mock debate Thursday in a rented Sons of the Utah Pioneers hall.

That society posted numerous signs saying it endorses no candidates, asked that none of its exhibits or logo be photographed, and some said it would not allow the cardboard cutout of Hatch to be used there — although the society and Liljenquist’s campaign declined comment.

Liljenquist relished the opportunity to display quotes suggesting reversals and missteps that he said Utahns likely do not want from their senator.

Some included:

• A video that showed Hatch responding in a news interview to a question about why he had supported creation of Medicare Part D to cover prescription costs without paying for it. “In those days, a lot of things weren’t paid for,” he said.

Liljenquist responded that Hatch and Congress “refused to make the tough decisions,” and led the nation into deep debt. “My biggest problem with Senator Hatch is this … I do not think the politicians who have led us to that point have the credibility to lead us out.”

• When a moderator asked why Hatch had served 36 years after pledging to serve only 18, a photo of Hatch was displayed with the sounds of crickets playing in the background.

“I agree with the 1976 version of Orrin Hatch,” Liljenquist said. “Eighteen years is long enough to serve in the U.S. Senate.”

• Hatch saying in 2009 that the No Child Left Behind Act was a benefit to Utah schools. “What a difference it has made,” he said then on the Senate floor. Liljenquist then played statements from Hatch in debates this year saying he had voted for that act skeptically only to help George W. Bush, and then voted against reauthorizing it recently.

“There is no role for the federal government in public education,” Liljenquist said.