Sen. Mike Lee has been getting the cold shoulder back in his home state of Utah for his role in forcing the 16-day government shutdown — in sharp contrast to the standing ovations his staunch ally Ted Cruz received in Texas.
The two tea party darlings led the crusade to tie the federal budget to funding for Obamacare, which ultimately led to the shutdown.
But in doing so, Lee broke Utah’s long tradition of being represented by pragmatic, business-minded Republicans in the Senate, leading to a backlash from prominent members of the state GOP, reports The Washington Post
Former Republican governor Jon Huntsman, a 2012 presidential candidate who once employed Lee as his general counsel, told the Post that Lee has bucked the trend of senators who work to make Utahans proud.
“You don’t have ideological wack-jobs,” he said. “For all of its labeling as a red state, underneath it all Utah is a pretty pragmatic Western state, a just-get-it-done ethos.”
Others blame Lee, 42, for charting a course they say weakened the party’s standing nationally and hurt the local economy, which relies heavily on tourism at its national parks, reports The Wall Street Journal
“Among the tea party, Mike Lee is a rock star. Among everyone else, not so much,” Holly Richardson, a former Republican state lawmaker, told the newspaper, adding, “There’s real unhappiness about what he has done to Utah and to the image of the Republican Party.”
Indeed, a Brigham Young University survey
conducted during the shutdown found that 57 percent of Utah residents wanted Lee to be more willing to compromise.
The same poll showed the freshman senator’s approval rating falling to 40 percent, the lowest rating for a sitting Utah senator in years. Among Republicans, Lee’s favorable ratings were little different from those of Rep. Jim Matheson, the state’s only Democrat in Congress.
Lee, who got to the Senate by defeating incumbent Bob Bennett in a primary, shrugged off the findings, telling the Post, “The only number I worry about is how many people are being hurt by Obamacare.”
But the numbers could come back to haunt him in 2016. Even before the shutdown, some Utah party and business leaders had reportedly started a $1 million petition drive to overturn the state’s caucus system that helped bring Lee to power as part of the 2010 tea party wave amid anger over Obamacare.
A direct primary in which all voters in the state select the party’s nominate could benefit a more mainstream candidate, they believe.
Lee has reportedly raised just $249,000 in the past quarter through September, about a fifth of what Cruz raised, and has only $52,000 in cash on hand.
Thomas Wright, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, told the Post he is considering running against Lee in 2016 because he is “exasperated” with the senator’s governing style.
“We can’t keep going on like this,” he said. “I want to work with people to get things done. I want to go be a leader and build bridges, not burn them down.”
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