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SALT LAKE CITY — Dan Liljenquist held a faux debate Thursday evening using video excerpts, pulled from the Internet, of various statements by the man he is challenging for a seat in the U.S. Senate, incumbent Orrin Hatch.
But the cardboard cutout of Hatch Liljenquist promised to face failed to make an appearance at the debate-styled town hall meeting held at the Utah Sons of Pioneer Museum, which drew about 200 people. Liljenquist invited the real Hatch, but Hatch has refused all but a single debate, scheduled for later this month on KSL Radio.
Thursday's scheduled "debate" was, Liljenquist said, a way to build name recognition in his battle to unseat the six-term Republican. But the cutout of Hatch was left out of the hall at the request of museum officials, said Holly Richardson, campaign manager for Liljenquist.
"This is an opportunity to make a point that the senior senator from the state of Utah has repeatedly turned down opportunities to address the people of this state," he said. "If Senator Hatch refuses to debate his record, we'll do it for him.
Liljenquist used carefully selected clips of Hatch statements, not to debate Hatch, but to address issues of entitlement reform, term limits and the national debt, among other issues he has focused on during his campaign.
"What is the debt ceiling increase? It is the worst kind of tax," Liljenquist said during the event, contrasting his statements with Hatch's votes to raise the debt ceiling. "Because what it is, it's a deferred tax, with interest on a whole generation of Americans who never had a say. That is not right."
The video snippet shown of Hatch's "defense" of his voting record said "most of those 16 times were done during the Reagan years, when we were fighting the Soviet Union, where he had to have the money for the military."
Liljenquist conceded that he can't compete with Hatch's multimillion dollar campaign war chest. He said Hatch believes he's entitled to his Senate seat and cited as evidence the senator's refusal to face him.
"The pride of the Hatch campaign is quite remarkable," he said. "If that doesn't cause questions in people's minds, I don't know what will."
Earlier Thursday, Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen wrote off the "debate" as a stunt by someone who is behind in the race.
"I think it's a gimmick to get some publicity. That's all it is. It's not even a new gimmick," he said.
Hatch should know, because he used the same tactic during his first Republican primary campaign 36 years ago, Liljenquist said.
"We're actually borrowing out of his playbook from 1976," he said.
Liljenquist has not stopped calling on Hatch to debate him since the state GOP convention in April, saying he would take the senator on anytime, anywhere. Hansen said the two debates and more than 18 joint appearances before the convention are sufficient.
The Deseret News and KSL offered last month to host a debate on prime-time television. Liljenquist quickly accepted; Hatch declined. The senator did, however, agree to a debate on The Doug Wright Show, scheduled for June 15.
Hatch and Liljenquist also are scheduled to appear separately on KSL-TV's "Sunday Edition" on June 24, two days before the primary election.