Politicos wonder which Sen. Lee will show up at Utah, Iowa events

Published: Friday, Nov. 1 2013 10:20 p.m. MDT

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, left, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, center, arrive at a rally at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.

Alex Brandon, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee might be sounding less strident lately, but the head of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition is still looking forward to hearing the Utah Republican's keynote address at the coalition's upcoming annual fundraiser.

"I'm not concerned about his weakening at all," said Steve Scheffler, president of the influential conservative coalition that's invited Lee to make his debut in Iowa Nov. 9 alongside former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

But Craig Robinson, co-founder and editor of the Iowa Republican website, said he's not sure Lee will choose to present himself to the party activists as "that quotable guy that sets the room on fire."

Instead, Robinson said, Lee may try to come across as a "serious politician," continuing to downplay his tea party ties as he did earlier this week at what was described as a conciliatory speech to a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank.

Utahns will get their chance to listen to Lee Saturday at a rally announced by the Utah Republican Party as an opportunity to hear about his fight against the Affordable Care Act that led to a federal government shutdown.

The Utah Democratic Party is urging a protest of Lee's "dangerous ideological posturing" at the rally, set for 11 a.m. at the West Riverfront Park in South Jordan.

Rally organizer Amelia Powers, of West Mountain in Utah County, said most Utahns appreciate that Lee "did what he said he would do, not something that would be popular in Washington and get praise from the media."

Asked about the rally, Lee's communications director Brian Phillips said in a statement that it "was organized by a number of Utahns who are frustrated by the poor and misleading coverage of Sen. Lee in the news media."

Phillips said Lee "is going to show up to say thank you."

Lee's appearance may be his first in Utah since polls found voters did not support his strategy to stop the health care law by refusing to include funding for it in the budget bill needed to keep the federal government running past Oct. 1.

Both Deseret News/KSL and Brigham Young University polls also showed Lee's favorability falling below 50 percent. Even though Lee won't be up for re-election for three years, there is already talk he'll be challenged from within the GOP.

National media has focused on the backlash Lee is facing in Utah. His win in 2010 after longtime Sen. Bob Bennett was defeated at the state GOP convention was seen as the then-new tea party's first major victory.

Lee did not mention the tea party in his speech Tuesday to the Heritage Foundation, instead urging all factions of the GOP to work together on an agenda that will help the party retake the White House in 2016.

His description of "What's Next for Conservatives" called for "sharpening more pencils than knives" and putting aside some of the same tactics he and other tea party supporters in Congress employed against Obamacare.

Lee was chosen to deliver the keynote speech at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's annual fundraising dinner because, Scheffler said, he doesn't "wilt under political pressure and is willing to stand up for constitutional principles."

Scheffler said he expects Lee, who is the evening's first speaker, to fire up the 1,000 or so attendees to get involved in the upcoming election cycle. Tickets to the event are $55 each, or $1,000 to meet and have a picture taken with Palin.

He said Lee is right that the different wings of the party need to work together, at least "when they can. But I don't believe in backing down because there was a defeat."

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