With the 2016 election more than two and a half years away, Republican Mike Lee accepted his first official re-election endorsement at Salt Lake City’s Grand America Hotel Wednesday. Members of the California-based group Tea Party Express put their support behind Utah’s junior senator.
Mike Lee’s 2010 upset win over then incumbent Utah Senator Bob Bennett was considered by many a major victory for the Tea Party movement. Amy Kremer is chairman of the Tea Party Express. She hopes the organization’s early endorsement of Lee will inspire more conservatives to run in 2014 – but ultimately she wants to make sure Lee remains in the U.S. Senate well past 2016.
"You know if people are going to talk about challenging him three or four years out, then we’re going to endorse him three or four years out because he is that good of a conservative," she says. "And like I said, we know that he’s not going to change his principles in three weeks or three years."
Lee and Texas Senator Ted Cruz led recent efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act that played a role in the recent shutdown of the federal government. Lee says challenging policy is necessary in his minority position in the senate.
"Our job is to oppose those things that we think are harmful to the public, even when it’s difficult, especially when it’s difficult," Lee says.
Tim Chambliss is an associate professor at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. He says a Tea Party endorsement may help Lee with conservatives nationwide, but not with all Republican voters in Utah.
"The negative right now does not allow the voters to see what he is realistically for, in terms of being a problem solver, and as a result there are members of his own party that are considering challenging him," Chambliss says.
Lee says he plans to continue pushing his conservative reform agenda in the final two and half years of his first senate term.