The timing seems a bit strange, but a national Tea Party organization is already endorsing Sen. Mike Lee’s re-election bid in 2016.
Perhaps it’s the rumored big-name challengers lining up to take on Lee 3 years from now.
Maybe it’s an attempt to shore up Lee’s flagging approval numbers in Utah in the wake of the government shutdown.
Whatever the reason, Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, traveled to Utah on Wednesday morning to stand with Lee and offer her group’s backing even though there’s more than 1,000 days until the 2016 election.
“There aren’t enough conservatives in Washington,” said Kremer. “We need more people like Senator Lee. He needs our help and we intend to be here through 2016 to make sure he’s re-elected.”
Lee’s approval ratings in Utah fell 10 points from June to October. Most attribute it to his effort to defund Obamacare, which led to a 16-day shutdown of the federal government. That has led to some speculation that Lee will almost certainly face a challenge from within the GOP in 2016.
Is that backlash in public opinion the reason for the extremely early endorsement?
“There’s already talk of him (Lee) being challenged 3 to 4 years out from the election,” said Kremer. “That’s why we need to endorse him 3-4 years out.”
For his part, Lee did not shy away from the group’s backing, saying he needs their support to push ahead in developing a conservative agenda to help Republicans win back the White House.
“In 1980, Republicans and Ronald Reagan were able to win the White House because they had a conservative reform agenda. We need to do that again,” said Lee.
Asked whether that reform agenda should be coming from a U.S. Senator when the approval rating for Congress is hovering around 6%, Lee was undeterred.
“Reform has to start somewhere,” Lee said. “If the ideas are good, then we will be joined by other conservatives from across the country.”
There may be another threat to Lee’s chances at another term, the “Count My Vote” citizen’s initiative. If Utah moves to a primary instead of the caucus system, it might make Lee’s chances of winning the nomination harder. Kremer says her organization has no plans to get involved in that fight.
“While any effort to change the process for political gain is not good, we aren’t planning on getting involved with this (citizen’s initiative). We engage in federal races, not issues. Besides, we’re confident Senator Lee will be the nominee no matter what method is used.”