Sen. Orrin Hatch sometimes flushed red with anger and wrung his hands under the desk as he talked. His GOP challenger, Dan Liljenquist, often pointed his finger as he aggressively took on his Republican rival.
But few people saw that — and their expressions during many testy exchanges — because Friday’s debate was on the radio, and Hatch declined offers to have a tape of it televised.
It also is the only debate that Hatch is allowing between the state convention and Utah’s June 26 primary.
Liljenquist declared victory afterward and said, “That’s why they don’t want to debate.”
When asked who won, Hatch said, “I never talk in those terms.”
He added, “You’ll never see Orrin Hatch afraid to debate anybody” and said Friday’s radio debate plus two before the state convention were plenty.
The two had several feisty exchanges on KSL Radio’s “Doug Wright Show” about the value of Hatch’s 36 years of Senate seniority and about their voting records.
For example, Hatch accused Liljenquist of voting to expand child health insurance programs when he was a state senator.
“That is simply not true,” Liljenquist said.
“Well, of course, it’s true,” Hatch responded.
“No, it’s not true,” Liljenquist insisted.
“What are you talking about?” Hatch asked.
“The vote I took in the Legislature removed a five-year waiting period for legal immigrants — legal immigrants — to qualify for these programs. That’s all I did,” Liljenquist said.
“That’s an expansion,” Hatch said.
“That was not an expansion,” Liljenquist said.
Later, Liljenquist accused Hatch of “fiscal child abuse” by voting for programs not fully funded, leaving future generations to pay for them.
“Apparently, I’m responsible for everything that’s wrong in the federal government,” Hatch responded. “That’s total BS and everyone knows it.”
As they argued whether Hatch’s seniority is needed to protect Hill Air Force Base, Hatch said Liljenquist doesn’t believe the northern Utah installation is at risk so he “shouldn’t be representing our state.”
Liljenquist fired back: “Absolutely, I know that, I live in Davis County.”
Hatch said, “Well, apparently you don’t.”
After they interrupted each other several more times on the matter, Hatch, seeking a seventh Senate term, said, “Look, I’m getting a little aggravated because I think some of these arguments are so phony.”
Liljenquist asked, “Can I finish?”
Hatch said, “Go ahead.”
At the end of the debate, Liljenquist asked Hatch if he considers himself responsible in any way for the national debt that exploded during his time in Washington.
Hatch answered, “Frankly, no. I led the fight against the debt from day one.”
Liljenquist didn’t buy it.
“That answer is absolutely remarkable,” he said. “We’ve had a generation of people back there who will not take a single shred of responsibility for a single vote, even though they have voted much of the time to spend money we did not have.”
Earlier, Hatch complained that he didn’t have more success fighting spending and debt in the Senate because “we’ve been in the minority the whole time I’ve been there.”
“That is simply not true,” Liljenquist said. Hatch repeated, “Sure is.”
Liljenquist then noted Republicans held majorities, for example, of the Senate and House when George W. Bush was president. That, he said, is when Hatch helped pass health and other programs that expanded spending.
Hatch then said several liberal-leaning Republicans often sided with Democrats, so conservative Republicans did not have real majorities.
“Was it those liberal-leaning Republicans who forced you to vote for Medicare Part D?” Liljenquist asked. “If they have that much power, boy, those are awfully powerful senators. It is your votes that I am talking about.”
Hatch asserted that he “fought for Utah.”
“I fought for this country. I fought for balanced-budget amendments. I fought to get spending under control. And I’d be in a position to really do it” as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee — if the GOP can win control of the Senate and House and elect Mitt Romney.
“I am running, senator, because you could be chair of the Senate Finance Committee, not in spite of it,” Liljenquist said. “In the 18 years on that Senate Finance Committee, you have voted yourself to expand entitlements by trillions of dollars.”
Radio debate rebroadcast
R KSL Radio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM) plans to rebroacast Friday’s debate between Sen. Orrin Hatch and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist at 8 p.m. Saturday.
It may not be as prized in Utah as an endorsement from favorite son Mitt Romney, who is supporting Sen. Orrin Hatch, Dan Liljenquist, was backed Friday by former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
“Plain and simple, Dan Liljenquist is the stronger conservative in this race,” said Santorum, who served in the Senate with Hatch. “I’ve known Orrin Hatch for years and believe he is a very good man, but in a deeply conservative state like Utah, we must elect authentic conservatives. I believe Dan Liljenquist is that candidate.”
Adding to the debate about who is the real conservative, the American Conservative Union Political Action Committee endorsed Hatch on Friday.
“Orrin Hatch has fought hard for the people of Utah,” said ACU Chairman Al Cardenas, “standing up for the rights of the unborn, the Second Amendment and pushing for a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”