Note to Mike Leavitt, Josh Romney or Kirk Jowers in 2016: Beware of Sen. Mike Lee in the state Republican convention.

 

Lee, R-Utah, got a rousing response from the nearly 4,000 delegates on Saturday, as he lambasted President Barack Obama and Congress.

Lee, following Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, got a standing ovation BEFORE he even spoke. (Hatch and Herbert were politely welcomed.)

Lee was interrupted at least 15 times in his short speech by delegate applause – with a prolonged standing ovation at his finish.

And it showed that GOP state delegates really, really like Lee.

Thus, at least among these rank-and-file party insiders, Lee is NOT in political trouble.

While he has not announced anything yet, a number of political pundits expect Leavitt – who served as governor from 1992 to 2003, and left to head two federal agencies in the George W. Bush administration – to run for Lee’s seat in 2016.

Mitt Romney’s son, Josh, and University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics director Kirk Jowers, are among a half dozen other well-connected Republicans who may be looking at a GOP U.S. Senate run in two years.

Lee, a freshman, has already said he’ll seek re-election.

Some say the Count My Vote citizen petition effort – Leavitt and Jowers were two of the main supporters – was really aimed at giving a more moderate Republican a route OUTSIDE of the caucus/delegate/convention process to the state Republican primary ballot.

(Backers of CMV say their citizen initiative petition was not aimed at any individual. In fact, CMV – and now the SB54 “grand compromise” – will increase voter participation and result in more representative government, they argue.)

Leavitt finished second in the GOP convention voting in 1992. He won the primary and final election.

Leavitt did well in his first re-election in the 1996 convention – winning the nomination and coasting to a second term.

But by 2000 he was forced by dissatisfied GOP delegates into a primary against an unknown Republican challenger.

And that year Leavitt was booed by some delegates from the floor.

Leavitt went on to become only the second man to win three gubernatorial terms – and ended his tenure with a high approval rating among all Utahns, polls showed.

It’s probably fair to say that Leavitt’s strong support of CMV – he personally donated $25,000 to the CMV PIC – will not serve him well in the 2016 state GOP convention.

The young Romney and Jowers have not run for office before, and so don’t have a track record inside state GOP conventions.

If SB54 is not changed in the 2015 Legislature, then Leavitt/Romney/Jowers and any other candidates won’t HAVE to go to their party conventions at all.

They won’t have to face delegates.

For a statewide race, L/R/J and other such candidates can gather 28,000 voter signatures – including independents and even members of other parties – and make the primary ballot.

Under current law, the candidate who gets the most primary votes – even if it is not more than 50 percent – would win his party’s nomination.

SB54 also says “qualified” parties (there is another story there) must hold open primaries in 2016.

That means that independents and Democrats could come into the 2016 GOP primary and vote for the more moderate candidates.

And L/R/J and other more “moderate” candidates will need those folks if they want to beat out archconservatives like Lee.

Saturday, Lee really roused the more than 4,000 who attended the state GOP convention (which was open to the public, so there were more in attendance than just the delegates.)

Meanwhile, Lee clearly understands that he needs to speak beyond the conservatives who love him, as seen Saturday.

For example, Lee spoke about the bills he is co-sponsoring with Democratic senators.

He will work with others, he said. He will help the national party put forward a conservative, reasonable agenda for 2014 and beyond.

But Lee also loves the red meat politics he shares with GOP delegates.

He stands against Obama’s spying on Americans cell phones and emails. (Cheers.)

He stands against Obamacare, which tells you what doctor you can see, and forces you to pay for health insurance. (Cheers.)

“The president can’t make laws with a pen or phone.” (Cheers.)

“We have to stop just talking about Ronald Reagan and start acting like him.” (Cheers.)

The Republican Party is really the party for helping the poor move upward in America, said Lee.

Returning to a true fiscally responsible, constitutional government is the route to bettering all Americans’ lives. (Cheers.)

Who knows if L/R/J or any other candidates in 2016 will chose the two-route option – gathering the needed signatures AND attending the convention and asking delegates for their votes.

But at least on Saturday, Lee was clearly much loved by the GOP convention delegates. And anyone standing against him in such a convention in 2016 – and not having the petition gathering backstop -- would be in real political trouble.