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Dan Liljenquist banking on youth to bring change to the Senate

Published: Saturday, June 16 2012 4:48 p.m. MDT

Former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist is greeted by the Rev. Greg Johnson prior to speaking to pastors at the Salt Lake Christian Center in Salt Lake City Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Read more: Hatch, Liljenquist trade heated barbs in morning debate

Related: Orrin Hatch points to experience, seniority as reasons to keep him in office

SALT LAKE CITY — Besides U.S. Senate candidate Dan Liljenquist and a receptionist, there is no one in the Senate hopeful's sparse campaign headquarters on the 11th floor of a downtown office building on a recent morning.

No supporters working the phones. No staffers plotting strategy.

Liljenquist sits alone behind a desk, his MacBook Pro open and his LDS scriptures just closed. Most mornings find him alone making phone calls and doing media interviews over the phone or via Skype.

Asked about the lack of activity, the former state Republican senator explains that all of his campaign volunteers walk their neighborhoods or work from home. They've placed 10,000 yard signs and distributed 90,000 door hangers.

"We just have some very, very passionate volunteers," Liljenquist said.

Liljenquist abounds with enthusiasm about his prospects for dethroning longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch, saying he's building name recognition and closing the gap to single digits, though he offers no poll results to back up the claim.

The Hatch campaign, he says, is trying to keep the race quiet.

"He's spending his time in D.C. hanging out at The Monocle," Liljenquist says, referring to a favorite Hatch eatery where he holds fundraisers. "We are meeting with voters. We'll see which strategy works the best."

Liljenquist has pushed Hatch to debate him since the state Republican Party convention in April, and it finally happened Friday. The two exchanged barbs on KSL Radio for an hour, Hatch touting his decades-long experience in the Senate and Liljenquist citing that as the reason he must go.

When the issue of taxes came up, Liljenquist said he favors an increase on businesses such as General Electric. He said he wants to broaden the base, get rid of loopholes and lower the overall tax rate.

"Everybody should pay something," he said.

Meeting the public

Back on the campaign trail earlier this month, the 37-year-old father of six ages 2 to 12 has a lunch meeting at the Salt Lake Christian Center with more than a dozen evangelical pastors before making a swing through southern Utah. He said it was his 260th campaign event since announcing his candidacy on Jan. 4.

He drives his Buick LaCrosse or self-designated "old guy" car to the event himself. An empty Diet Coke can sits on the passenger seat, while two bags of sunflower seeds lay on the floor.

The Rev. Greg Johnson of the Standing Together ministry said he invited Hatch but the campaign told him the senator would be in Washington. Evangelicals make up less than 2 percent of Utahns, Johnson says, but notes they have a big voice in national politics, accounting for 26.3 percent of voters.

Liljenquist talks and answers questions for more than an hour, addressing everything from his childhood to his faith to his politics. He calls each pastor by name as he takes their questions, including the ones he just met. Every now and again one of them lets out an "amen" to something the candidate says.

During his speech, Liljenquist shares details about a 2008 plane crash in Guatemala that nearly killed him. He shattered both legs but was among three survivors. Eleven others died.

"You don't have time to waste. Life is very, very fragile. Every moment should count," he said.

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