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Bountiful • The only sign of Sen. Orrin Hatch at a candidate debate Tuesday was his name plate in front of a vacant seat. But Hatch was still the center of attention.

Democrat Scott Howell, Constitution Party nominee Shaun McCausland and unaffiliated candidate Bill Barron took turns throwing verbal darts at the absent Hatch before an audience of just 20 people at the Bountiful City Hall. Their debate was also broadcast on K-Talk Radio, and recordings will be on its website.

As an example of barbs, Howell turned to the empty seat and asked Hatch what he has done to create jobs. "I don't hear anything," he said. In a later question about improving the environment, he turned to the chair and said, "Sen. Hatch I'll ask you again what have you done? " and let silence follow.

Dave Hansen, Hatch's campaign manager, said Hatch skipped the debate because of previously scheduled campaign events. He also said it is still early in the campaign, and plenty of time exists for debates later.

Hatch was also attacked constantly during the GOP primary by Republican Dan Liljenquist for avoiding all but one radio debate then. Hatch won with 66 percent of the vote.

Howell especially led the attack Tuesday on Hatch, with the others chiming in from time to time.

For example, after Howell pointed at the empty seat of the 36-year incumbent, he said, "Re-electing someone who is part of the problem is not the solution. ... For 36 years, we have allowed the same thing with the same person and the same thinking. Congressional approval is below 10 percent, the lowest it's ever been."

He added, "It reminds me of a football team with a horrible record. ... They bring in a new coach."

Howell said Hatch contends his seniority will benefit Utah. But, Howell added, newcomers can lead too, saying he showed that when he was elected Democratic leader of the state Senate after serving there just two years. "We perpetuate seniority that causes the problems we have today," he said.

McCausland took a shot at Hatch for not doing more to stop growing deficits. He said Hatch's excuse is that Congress will not pass his balanced budget constitutional amendment, but that "is a cop out."

McCausland said Congress could balance a budget without that and "we need to start cutting big segments of the federal government so we can get there."

Barron took only rare and minor jabs at Hatch, focusing instead on his central issue of urging better care of the environment, and fighting global warming by reducing use of fossil fuels.

Utah Justice Party nominee Daniel Geery had also been scheduled to debate, but did not show.