SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Senate candidate Dan Liljenquist accused Sen. Orrin Hatch of "fiscal child abuse" in a debate Friday, drawing one of several testy responses from his fellow Republican.
Though the hour-long exchange on KSL Radio didn't elicit anything new from the candidates, Liljenquist took a harsher tone in attacking the six-term senator on a variety of fronts including the national deficit, health care and Hill Air Force Base. He also went after Hatch's longevity in the Senate, which Hatch hailed as invaluable for Utah because of the experience and seniority he has gained.
"Sen. Hatch and his generation of politicians have presided over the biggest run-up in debt in the history of mankind. They have voted repeatedly to increase the debt ceiling. They have voted to expand entitlements we couldn't afford," Liljenquist said.
Hatch said he was running to help GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Washington, comments he used to open the debate and the name he continually referred to as he touted the GOP presidential candidate's endorsement.
"I have been raising money for Senate candidates. We have to have the Senate. I'm all over this country chatting and fighting for Mitt Romney," he said.
Hatch called himself the likely chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee where 60 percent of all federal spending is considered. He said with Romney as president and "if I take over as chairman, we're going to get these matters under control one way or the other."
It's time for new leaders in the Senate, Liljenquist said. "I am running, senator, because you could become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, not in spite of it," he said.
Liljenquist said Hatch has spent a future generation's worth of wealth, foisting the tax burden on a "whole bunch of Americans" who didn't have the chance to vote for him.
"That is fiscal child abuse and that's what has happened in Congress under your watch," he said.
The comment clearly rankled Hatch.
"Let me get this straight. Apparently, I'm responsible for everything that's wrong in government. That's total b.s. and everybody knows it," the six-term senator said.
Both candidates attacked the voting records of the other: Hatch's 36 years in the U.S. Senate and Liljenquist's three years in the Utah Senate.
After the debate, Liljenquist said he "clearly" won and showed why Hatch was unwilling to meet him one-on-one other than this one time.
"Oh, give me a break," Hatch said. "I've debated the most important people in politics. … You won't see Orrin Hatch afraid to debate anybody."
At one point, moderator Doug Wright gave the candidates an opportunity ask each other a question.
Hatch didn't have a question for his opponent, but called Liljenquist a "fine fellow" before blasting his association with "sleazy" FreedomWorks.
The national tea party organization mounted a "Retire Hatch" campaign and ran negative ads against him before the state GOP convention but has been relatively quiet since. Liljenquist said after the debate that a group called Freedom Path that associates itself with Hatch runs the same type of ads against him.
For his one question, Liljenquist asked Hatch if he felt responsible in any way for the national debt.
"Frankly, no," Hatch replied. "I led the fight against the debt from day one. And I'm offended that you keep bringing it up like I'm responsible for all the things that are wrong in America. How about the things that are right, Dan. Am I responsible for those, too?"
Liljenquist was incredulous.
"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."
Hatch complained that it has been difficult to fight federal spending because in the Senate "we’ve been in the minority the whole time I’ve been there."
"That is simply not true," Liljenquist said.
"Sure is," Hatch replied.
Liljenquist pointed out that Republicans held majorities in the Senate and House when George W. Bush was president.
The challenger also went after Hatch for saying he saves Hill Air Force Base year after year from losing jobs or being relocated, calling it the "politics of fear."
"To suggest that one man, Orrin Hatch, stands between Hill Air Force Base and oblivion is ridiculous," he said.
Hatch said Liljenquist doesn't know what he's talking about. Hill, he said, is targeted every year and he said that he and former Sen. Jake Garn and former Rep. Jim Hansen always had to fight for it. "I don't believe it's all me," he said.
The winner of the June 26 GOP primary will face Democrat Scott Howell, a former state senator, in the November general election.
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