PROVO -- Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Democratic challenger Scott Howell traded jabs Wednesday morning in what will be their only televised debate.
The two tussled on the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, gridlock in Congress and Hatch's 36 years of experience in the Senate in the one-hour debate that was televised on Utah's public broadcasting stations Wednesday night.
Off the bat the two candidates disagreed on what should be done with health care in the United States. While Hatch claimed that the Affordable Care act will lead to the destruction of the country, Howell said he would not vote to repeal the law but would look to add amendments to improve it.
"Obamacare is a disgrace and we all know it," Hatch said.
Howell noted that many of the ideas he would support in changing Obamacare are Republican ideas that he believed should have been included in the original plan. He said if elected he would be the Democrat who reaches across the aisle and works with both parties.
Hatch jabbed at Howell's pledge to work with both parties, stating that if Howell were elected he would go to D.C. and be forced to vote with the Democrats.
"The fact that what I've seen is once a Democrat gets back there they go with the rest of the Democrats," Hatch said. "And let's face it, that is the liberal party. And they have kept themselves in power by using your money claiming they are compassionate and really not doing what they all say they are going to do when they get in debates like this."
Howell stated that Hatch's accusations are exactly what he feels is wrong with the current crop of lawmakers in Congress. He said Hatch was painting with a broad paintbrush.
"That is just what is broken back there," Howell said.
Throughout the debate Hatch continued the same tune he has been using since he started campaigning to be re-elected, as he declared multiple times that he is the ranking Republican on the Senate's powerful finance committee and if the Republicans were to gain control of the Senate he would be chairman of that committee. He noted that was the main reason he was running again. He also reminded the audience that he was endorsed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Hatch did make one eyebrow-raising remark in the debate, saying he hardly mentions his seniority as a reason he should be re-elected.
"Our state is very, very important. We stand up for it. I've spent 36 years standing up for it. And I've got to tell you when it comes down to seniority, I hardly ever mention it. I think experience is what counts," Hatch said.
Howell also had his share of peculiar moments in the debate as it seemed he was trying to emphasize that he is a Democrat and an active member of the LDS Church. Howell spoke of his service of a missionary and how he was made a senior companion early in his mission in an effort to show that he has been able to lead even when he did not have much experience. He also referenced Book of Mormon prophet King Benjamin in one of his answers.
The two also sparred over foreign policy. While discussing the war in Afghanistan Howell declared that it would be his goal to bring every troop home by Christmas 2013. Howell said the Afghanistan war is something no country has succeeded in and it was time to start bringing home the troops in a cautious and effective manner.
"I'm telling you right now, we've had two unfunded wars that have led this country into a financial catastrophe, which my opponent voted for both times," Howell said.
Hatch stated that defense decisions should be made based off information the military gives to Congress. He stated that he voted in favor of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because the country could not sit back and do nothing in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The debate was the first of two debates that will be held between the two candidates.
Following Hatch's win in the Republican primary Howell began calling for multiple debates to be held in various venues across the state. Hatch would only agree to the two debates as his campaign team has said there are various ways to talk to voters and debates are only one of those avenues. Hatch's effort to avoid multiple debates seemed to have irked Howell. Prior to the debate when Hatch and Howell greeted one another Howell shook Hatch's hand and said, "I've missed you. I tried to find you."
The two will debate again on Oct. 26 on KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright Show.