Hatch leads Howell, a former minority leader in the Utah Senate and retired IBM executive, in a recent public opinion poll by such large numbers that it is unrealistic to believe Hatch can lose Nov. 6.
But Howell isn’t giving up – and he had more than a few zingers against the senior senator during the hour-long KSL Radio Doug Wright Show. (You can listen to the program here.)
It’s only the second debate that Hatch has agreed to with Howell.
When Hatch talked about the endorsements he’s gotten from former leading Utah politicians Jake Garn, Jim Hansen and Norm Bangerter, Howell replied that they all had one thing in common – they are retired.
And Hatch would do well to follow suit.
Several times the two’s conservations fell to interrupting each other, with radio host Wright saying he didn’t want to end up like Jim Lehrer – who was criticized of his handling of the first presidential debate.
“I don’t want to lose control here,” joked Wright on his morning KSL Radio live talk show.
In fact, Hatch and Howell both seemed to enjoy the meeting – or perhaps confrontation is a better term.
Outside the newsroom, when the men first met, Hatch seemed a bit distant to Howell, perhaps not liking the way Howell keeps saying that Hatch is likely to die in office if he’s given another six years.
While they exchanged on air the same basic charges and counter-points seen in their previous debate and at individual campaign stops, it was clear they were prepared for some scripted responses as well: Both frequently looked at binders (not full of women) they had brought into the KSL studio.
Remember, this was a radio debate, not a TV debate.
Howell took off his suit jacket and put on reading glasses – things he likely wouldn’t have done if he’d been on TV trying to show not only proper demeanor, but that he’s considerably younger, at 59, than Hatch.
Howell started the debate standing up, and looking down at Hatch in the small studio. Hatch then stood up, also, so that he was taller than Howell.
Howell kept looking at texts on his smart phone – maybe tips from campaign staffers who watched the debate outside in a hallway – and a few times even responded with quick texts himself.
My, how technology is changing our world.
Both men joked and discussed issues between several of the long commercial/newscast time outs, leading Wright to say on the air that perhaps the exchanges off air were more enlightening than those on.
And in a kind of odd example of the dominance in Utah of the really close, nationally watched, 4th Congressional District contest, while the two men debated, on TV screens located on a wall behind them, ran TV commercials for and against Rep. Jim Matheson and his GOP challenger Mia Love.
The Matheson/Love race is seeing millions of dollars of TV ads blasting Utah airwaves, most of the spending coming from special interest groups supporting each candidate.
By comparison, Hatch and Howell are rarely seen on TV.
Hatch has been running several endorsement ads, with Mitt Romney and the three above mentioned former GOP high officeholders, while Howell is just now starting some TV ads.
Utahns certainly aren’t seeing the outside special interest spending in the U.S. Senate race as in the 4th District contest.
A few of the debate high points:
-- Howell says Hatch is part of the “ridiculous” partisan gridlock in Congress; that after 36 years if he hasn’t fixed America’s problems, he is just part of them.
-- Hatch says Romney needs him in the U.S. Senate, and that he’ll be the top-ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, perhaps even chairman.
“Even if” Romney isn’t elected president, “even if” Republicans don’t take over control of the Senate, Hatch says his experience, along with how “respected” he is among his colleagues from both sides of the aisle, means real political power for Utah.
-- Howell said that former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has a better chance of becoming president (Anderson is running a third party effort this year) than Hatch has of becoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
“I’ll still have a lot of clout,” responded Hatch, if Republicans remain in the Senate minority.
-- Hatch is talking out of both sides of his mouth, says Howell, repeating time and again in this campaign how Hatch backs this or that program – from college student Pell grants to allowing illegal immigrant children to go to college – but then in recent years has voted against them.
-- Hatch says Democrats so screwed up the Dream Act – which Hatch originally sponsored – and other good programs that he’s had to vote against them.
The men then talked over each other trying to make their points – with Howell seeming to get the better of the exchange.
“Stop interrupting me and let me finish,” Hatch said at one point, saying he only interrupted Howell once “and I shouldn’t have done that.”
-- Hatch said he’s done more on immigration than any other member of Congress, but admitted that an overall solution has not been passed, mainly because Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on a solution.
-- “Coulda, shoulda, woulda,” said Howell. “At IBM if you don’t get something done in a year, you’re fired. I offer bold, brassy leadership” that will be effective.
-- Hatch said he doesn’t personally dislike President Barack Obama. “We’re friends.” But Hatch dislikes “what he does, what he stands for.”
-- If Romney is elected, and Howell is elected, Howell said he will “reach out the hand of fellowship” and won’t fight against Romney just because he’s a Republican.
Wright pointed out several times that a number of the questions he was asking came from UtahPolicy.com, where its Insiders Group and readers made suggestions about the most pressing issues of the day.
Hatch and Howell won’t debate again, and probably won’t speak until one of them calls the other election night to concede the race.