Sen. Orrin Hatch spent $10 million to rout Dan Liljenquist by a 2-to-1 margin in this week’s GOP primary.
Now, Hatch’s Democratic rival, Scott Howell, wants to use that money against him — along with some inexpensive social media and old-fashioned grass-roots campaigning — in a bid to topple the longtime senator this fall.
"When people figure out that [Hatch’s] money came from special-interest groups, that shows who he is beholden to," said Howell, who also ran against Hatch in 2000. "I am beholden to the citizens of the great state of Utah."
In a news conference outlining how he plans to foil Hatch’s push for a seventh term, Howell said his Republican rival’s big spending likely didn’t backfire in the primary because "there was a ‘tea party factor.’ There was a fear that the far right might take over again. ... People don’t want extremism in Utah."
Saying he is a moderate who can work with both parties, Howell called for 29 debates with Hatch — one in each county — before the general election and vowed to appear in each county even if his foe will not appear with him for town hall discussions.
Liljenquist had attempted a similar tactic, calling for eight debates. Hatch agreed to only one — on the radio — during the primary campaign, claiming he was busy in Washington. So Liljenquist held one debate in absentia against Hatch using videotapes of the veteran senator to try to show how his stands have changed during his 36 years in office.
The prospect of more than two dozen debates seems unlikely.
"I wouldn’t bet the farm on 29 debates," said Hatch’s campaign manager, Dave Hansen, adding that some are possible, but exactly how many would be worked out over time in negotiations.
Liljenquist was able to spend about $800,000 against Hatch, bolstered by more than $1 million that the national FreedomWorks PAC spent against Hatch. The last disclosure form filed by Howell in April showed he had $25,000 in cash on hand then, but said he has raised a "significant" amount recently.
Howell insisted he will have enough money to get out his message, centering on education, the economy and energy issues. But he will have to use some inexpensive means to do it — while arguing that Hatch’s bigger money shows he is being bought and paid for by special interests.
The Democrat, a former state senator, said his campaign will especially tap social media, noting he learned much about it during his 34-year career at IBM, from which he recently retired.
"Frankly, that’s where we are finding our greatest support right now," he said. "It’s almost like email is antiquated now, because people go to Facebook and they use other pieces of social media, and that’s where we are driving this."
He also expects to employ low-tech shoe leather, walking neighborhoods and knocking on doors by himself and volunteers.
"In 1989, I ran for the Utah state Senate. No one gave me a chance of winning, no one. I did it the old-fashioned way by going out and knocking on doors and meeting with people face to face," and he prevailed. "We are going all over the state. We will do a 29-county state debate, with or without Orrin."
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