The [election law] change will take effect in 2016, when Republican Sen. Mike Lee, a tea party favorite who replaced three-term incumbent Robert Bennett after a raucous 2010 convention, faces reelection. Lee was not an explicit target, backers of the election overhaul say, but his provocative actions — including a leading role in last year’s government shutdown — helped garner support for the change at the same time it soured voters on his performance.
“It was a subtext for some people,” said Kirk Jowers, a University of Utah political scientist and cofounder of Count My Vote, the group that pushed for the new election rules. (The effort was bipartisan but Utah is in effect a one-party Republican state, so the impact will be much greater on the GOP side.)
Arcane as it may seem, the overhaul is part of a larger move by the Republican establishment to reassert itself, from Capitol Hill — where GOP leaders put an end to months of tea-party-led brinkmanship — to roughly a dozen House and Senate races across the country, where business groups and their allies are working against tea partyers to elect more compromise-minded candidates.