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Sen. Mike Lee won't talk about polls showing Utahns don't support his fight against Obamacare

Published: Thursday, Oct. 10 2013 5:25 p.m. MDT

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) speaks during FreedomWorks "Free the People," at the USANA Amphitheater in Salt Lake City. Saturday, July 6, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee won't talk about a pair of new polls that show Utahns disagree with his fight against the new health care law known as Obamacare that has resulted in a federal government shutdown.

"We're not going to walk into a buzz saw," Lee's communications director, Brian Phillips, said Thursday after telling the Deseret News the senator would not be available for an interview if he was going to be asked about the polls.

Phillips criticized what he called the "false premises" behind the polls and said he would not allow the senator to answer such questions.

"When you start sandbagging, you don't get to demand the senator's time," he said.

Last week, a Deseret News/KSL poll by Dan Jones & Associates found that 56 percent of Utahns don't agree it was worth shutting down the government as part of the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

And Wednesday, BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy released survey results showing that 57 percent of Utahns believe Lee should be more willing to compromise, while 43 percent want him to stand by his principles.

Lee's favorability rating was below 50 percent in both polls.

Last Friday, a statement from Lee said he was only concerned about the number of Utahns "feeling the negative effects of Obamacare" and that he was "going to continue to fight for Utahns and let others worry about polls."

Phillips said that's all Lee is going to say about the polls.

"He has addressed it. We have been asked about it, and we have sent out statements," the communications director said.

Phillips said the people contacting Lee have a different opinion of his attempt to stop the health care law by preventing it from being funded in the budget bill needed to keep the government up and running.

The fight over the health care law led to the federal government shutting down on Oct. 1 and now threatens the next big financial decision facing Congress — whether to raise the debt ceiling to pay the nation's bills.

Phillips said support is running 100 to 1 for Lee's efforts in the emails and calls his office is receiving.

He said Lee would also have answered "no" if asked if it were worth shutting down the government over the fight.

"His strategy never was to shut down the government. Ever. He said that a million times," Phillips said, blaming "bad reporting" for Utahns believing Lee was behind the shutdown that furloughed workers, closed national parks and halted services.

Lee has blamed the shutdown on President Barack Obama and other Democrats.

In a fundraising email Thursday, Lee said Obama is ignoring the public's demand that they be protected from the health care law and is instead using his power "to inflict as much pain as possible on the people" in the shutdown.

Dan Jones, who has conducted political polling for more than 50 years, noted the similarities between the findings of the two polls. He said it is unusual for an elected official not to respond directly to poll results.

"The people, according to the survey, look at him as being an obstructionist," Jones said. "People would like to see more compromise back there, get Congress to work and government functioning."

BYU pollster Quin Monson said he has measured Lee's favorability rating over time, and the only explanation for the current decline "is his very, very public stance on health care and the shutdown."

Monson said that while Lee remains popular with tea party supporters, he is not faring well with the general electorate. Lee, who won his seat in 2010 after GOP delegates ousted longtime Sen. Bob Bennett, doesn't face re-election until 2016.

"You can ignore public opinion for only so long because ultimately we have elections," Monson said. "They're the ultimate test of public opinion. I would say if the election were held today, he'd be in real trouble."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsPolitics

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