Sen. Mike Lee taking his stand against health care law to Iowa, may be eyeing White House

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 25 2013 6:40 p.m. MDT

Craig Robinson, editor of The Iowa Republican and a former Iowa state GOP political director, said past speakers at Faith and Family Coalition events have included GOP presidential contenders Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.

"Anytime a U.S. senator or a governor or a high-profile Republican comes to Iowa, it definitely raises people's antennas and makes them go, 'Hmm.' It makes you think about that person running for president," Robinson said.

He said Lee is not that well-known in Iowa, aside from "the most active Republicans who live it and breathe it every day," but that's changing because of the health care funding fight.

"He's not necessarily the guy in the limelight, but he's part of that group that is making a lot of noise in Washington," Robinson said. "Coming to Iowa is only going to raise his national profile."

University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said not everyone in the political world who makes a pilgrimage to the state is eyeing a run for the White House.

Hagle said Lee would need to spend much more time in Iowa to be a contender, using repeated visits to become better acquainted with the state's voters and political leaders.

"Coming to this event is certainly a first step in that direction," Hagle said."Right now, I would just put this down as he was invited, so he'll come out and spread the word."

Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Lee is heading to Iowa to "make sure people don't see this anti-Obamacare crusade as Ted Cruz's one-man show."

Wilson said the Texas freshman senator is more aggressive and from a much bigger state than Lee. Though Lee may not be interested in running for president, "he is interested in bolstering a national profile with conservative activists."

Even though Lee is not up for reelection until 2016, he is already raising money through emails that are highly critical of the Obama administration and especially the health care law.

Courting conservatives around the country "keeps your options open," Wilson said. But that may just mean finding more support for the causes Lee holds dear, he said.

"We shouldn't just cast this in terms of self-interest," Wilson said. "He really does believe in this."

Lee said he expects his speech in Iowa to draw more attention to what he's trying to do in Washington.

"Anytime one has an opportunity to focus on issues and do so in a forum where there are willing and interested listeners, that will certainly be the case," the senator said.

University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said there's also a focus on the widening split within the GOP after Mitt Romney's 2012 loss to Obama.

"The Republican Party is at war with itself, and people are choosing sides within the party," Scala said, coming to Iowa and New Hampshire, another early voting state, to stake out their positions.

Right now, Lee is playing "wing man" to Cruz, seen as a tea party contender for the White House along with Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, Scala said.

"That's how I see Lee now, as someone in a supporting role, not someone with serious presidential ambitions," he said. But should the political fortunes of the more prominent candidates falter, "that could highlight someone like Lee."

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