Draper • In the first of just two planned debates, Sen. Orrin Hatch faced attacks Wednesday from his top two in-party challengers, who contend that he has lingered in office too long, is too ineffective and is too tied to old Washington ways.
But Hatch countered that his 36 years in office have created power. "I'm running again because I intend to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the most powerful committee in Congress," and said that would help do such things as save Hill Air Force Base and cut spending.
Hatch faced former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, and state Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, at a debate at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper, sponsored by the Republican Women of Utah County. The audience of 1,400 consisted largely of delegates to the April 21 state GOP convention.
Liljenquist complained that Hatch has been on the Finance Committee that he wants to lead for 18 years already, and it expanded spending as he watched. "What's going to be different next time?"
Hatch said Democrats were in charge of the committee much of that time. "We stopped a lot of bad things, but it's been difficult to pass things while I've been on that committee. We're going to change that."
Herrod said most Utahns oppose the No Child Left Behind Act for restrictions it puts on schools, but Hatch voted for it.
Hatch said he did so skeptically to support President George W. Bush, but, "I am totally opposed to the No Child Left Behind after watching it in action" and would work to repeal it.
One of the liveliest exchanges came as Hatch said Liljenquist should not have missed 25 percent of his legislative votes last year. Liljenquist said he missed the votes to negotiate both houses for Medicaid and pensions reform, which will save billions of dollars.
But Hatch said, "I can walk and chew gum at the same time," and said he achieved a 90 percent voting rate over 36 years while negotiating important issues. "I think you should make your votes."
Liljenquist asked Hatch how many votes he missed this week, as he has taken four weeks off to campaign at home before the GOP convention. Herrod also defended Liljenquist, saying it is easy to miss many votes in just a few minutes in the Legislature, while Congress keeps votes open for 20 minutes and said Hatch does not understand how the Legislature works.
Also, Liljenquist said, "You are not just there to vote, you are there to lead. ... I did," and his reforms of entitlements won several national awards.
Herrod managed to make the crowd erupt in cheers during an exchange with Hatch over age and experience. After Hatch, 78, called Herrod a young man while talking about the need for experience, Herrod thanked him saying, "At age 46, it's been years since I was called a young man."
The trio have another debate planned for 7 p.m. April 16 at the Gardner Center of Dixie State College in St. George. A total of 10 Republicans are running for Hatch's seat, but the Republican Women of Utah County said they invited only the three based on receiving significant support in polls.
Jeremy Friedbaum, one of the other candidates, said he wished he had been invited, but understands "that there would not have been room for all 10 candidates. Hatch would have been drowned out â¦ and it's important that he respond."