Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has agreed to one debate with his Republican challenger, Dan Liljenquist, during their primary showdown, an agreement that Liljenquist calls inadequate and a disservice to voters.
Liljenquist said that, during two debates leading up to the April 21 state GOP convention, delegates who saw the candidates side-by-side abandoned Hatch, and the campaign is afraid that will happen again.
"I completely understand their reluctance to have him be in front of the people of the state of Utah in an environment that can’t be controlled," Liljenquist said.
Hatch’s campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said Hatch is not dodging debates. He noted the two debates before the convention and said that Hatch simply doesn’t have time for more debates because of a packed Senate schedule in the coming weeks.
"The schedule is tougher in this primary season" than it was before the convention, Hansen said. "They’ve got a number of issues coming up where he will not be able to be out here as much. And there are a lot of other ways to communicate with voters."
Hansen said Hatch would hold town hall meetings or question-and-answer sessions — which Hansen characterized as one way for the senator to use his time in the state.
"For the time he is going to be here, there are a lot of ways to fill [it]," he said. "One of them is debates, and there are others."
Hatch and Liljenquist are competing to win the Republican Senate nomination at the party’s June 26 primary. Liljenquist narrowly forced Hatch into the primary at the party’s convention last month — the first time Hatch has had a primary since he won the seat 36 years ago.
The single debate is scheduled to be held on KSL radio’s "Doug Wright Show" in late June.
"There are 2.8 million people in this state and not everyone listens to a single radio program at one time," Liljenquist said. "These are not just Wasatch Front issues. They’re statewide issues, and we expect the senator to respect the voters of the state and have multiple debates in multiple venues."
Liljenquist had challenged Hatch to a series of eight debates at college campuses around the state. In recent days, the campaign had pointed out that Hatch, during his 1976 primary, had challenged his opponent to eight debates as well.
"This is the same courtesy he demanded in his original race," Liljenquist said.
"It was a different era," Hansen said. "There wasn’t cable TV and e-mail and all the other ways of information getting around. Second, both of the candidates were non-incumbents. They were challengers. Both of them were spending their entire time in the state."
Scott Howell, a former state senator and the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat, has said that, if Hatch won’t agree to debates, he would be happy to debate Liljenquist.
"We’re facing incredible challenges in our nation, and it’s time to talk about solutions," Howell said. "The citizens of Utah deserve to see the candidates for office side by side. With that in mind, I will gladly accept Mr. Liljenquist’s offer to debate."
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