Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, likely will be debating Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy more than Democratic senatorial candidate Brian Moss next week.
According to Hatch's campaign manager, the two-term senator is "being held hostage" by Congress and will miss three of the five debates scheduled with his opponent next week."It's the most cynical abuse of the majority leader's power that any of us have ever seen," Bud Scruggs said of Sen. Robert C. Byrd's decision to keep senators in Washington. Congress originally was scheduled to adjourn Oct. 7, but Byrd on Thursday announced they'd be in session until Oct. 21 or 22.
Scruggs is convinced Byrd's decision is purely partisan.
"This is an unusual year in that Republicans have a chance of picking up a couple of Democratic Senate seats against incumbents if they get the candidates back in the state to debate them - and face the issues," Scruggs said. "The longer those Democrats can avoid facing the music, the better they are going to do."
Scruggs said Hatch finds himself in a Catch-22 situation.
"If Senator Hatch comes out to campaign and misses votes on, say, the Drug Enforcement Bill, we will never hear the end of it - not just in this campaign, but in the campaign in 1994," he said. "They'll drag that up the same way Brian Moss is going back to 1979 to criticize things."
On the other hand, Scruggs said, if Hatch stays in Washington to vote, "Brian Moss is going to distort every other activity Senator Hatch is involved in. He is going to run around the state saying Orrin Hatch refuses to debate me.
"But when having to choose between those two, we will always opt for having Senator Hatch do his job."
Moss on Friday expressed disappointment over Hatch's decision. "Despite the fact he has been here on many other occasions, we haven't had the chance to debate. This is a great disservice not only to me, but to the thousands of Utahns who want to hear the discussion of issues between the two U.S. senatorial candidates," he said. "Unlike the governor's race, this contest for the highest elected office outside this state has had almost no attention at all."
According to Scruggs, many people have asked him why Hatch is even running a campaign when he's 47 points ahead of Moss in the polls.
"I have used the comparison before that I consider myself like a camper in the high Uintas," Scruggs said. "It doesn't cost much for Brian Moss to run around throwing mud at Orrin Hatch. It costs a lot to run around and clean up after him. That's what we spend most of our time doing."
The candidates agreed to eight debates, but have debated only once, by phone. They'll challenge each other in person on Oct. 16 on KUTV's "Take Two." Then Hatch is off to Washington.
He'll miss debates on KUED, before the Salt Lake Rotary and before University of Utah students. He still plans to debate Moss by telephone on KSL Radio Oct. 21.
If debate sponsors will accept a surrogate, Scruggs says he'll debate Moss for Hatch. "If not, I hope they will have the decency not to empty chair us because he (Hatch) is just doing his job."
Moss wants the debates rescheduled. "There is no reason for me to debate Bud Scruggs. He tries to talk for the senator but makes no sense when he does," said Moss. "It's in Hatch's interest, since he is ahead in the polls and has so much money, not to debate at all. But this is truly a disservice to the people of Utah."
If Scruggs has his way, there will be no debates the last week of the campaign.
"It's bad politics because Brian Moss has shown zero restraint up to this point and I don't want to give him a platform to throw mud without giving myself time to clean up after him."