Iowa fundraiser featuring Sen. Mike Lee a 'rallying point' for tea party
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
DES MOINES, Iowa — A fundraiser Saturday for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition featuring Utah Sen. Mike Lee is turning into a call to arms for the tea party after this week's high-profile losses in races around the country.
With other speakers, including former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the Friends of the Family banquet can help mobilize activists against mainstream Republicans and others turning on tea party conservatives.
Their job will be to counter concerns the GOP was damaged by the battle led by Lee and other tea party members of Congress over the Affordable Care Act that led to a federal government shutdown and a near-default on the nation's debts.
"You have to have a showdown," said Steve Scheffler, Iowa's GOP national committeeman and president of the influential coalition, part of a national effort to bring together tea party and evangelical Christian Republicans.
Scheffler said what's hurting the party are Republicans who refuse to fight as hard as the tea party against President Barack Obama, whose agenda makes previous Democratic administrations "look like Sunday school picnics."
Amy Kremer, a founder of the tea party movement and chairwoman of Tea Party Express, said the coalition's event at the Iowa state fairgrounds will be a "rallying point" for the tea party.
"I don't think it was planned that way," Kremer said. "But I think after all the backlash that the movement is getting from the establishment, the pushback (Lee) is getting there in (Utah), I think, yeah, it definitely will."
Losses Tuesday by tea party candidates in closely watched races, including for Virginia governor, appear to be widening the gulf in the party even with Republicans such as Mitt Romney criticizing the movement's tactics.
Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee, said last Sunday "the shutdown was not the right way to go" and urged the GOP to consider the electability of candidates it nominates, especially for the White House.
Even Lee recently gave a speech to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, on "What's Next for Conservatives," that called for all Republicans to work together — without mentioning the tea party by name.
But at a rally in South Jordan organized to show Utah's junior senator still has strong support in Utah after the shutdown even if recent polls found otherwise, Lee promised the cheering crowd, "We will stand free."
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic National Committee chairwoman, told KSL-TV that Republicans are engaged in what amounts to a civil war within the party — and the tea party is winning.
"Mike Lee has been one of the generals of that civil war, but it's not boding well for his party's success in elections," she said, because voters "just want us to work together. This 'my way or the highway' politics needs to stop."
Even so, Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, declared the tea party "still very much alive and well" and warned the war isn't going to be over anytime soon.
"The nomination process through 2014 is going to be a continual battle for whether they're going to put forward on the Republican side the most extreme tea party and tea party-infused candidates," she said.
If the GOP keeps rejecting "quote-unquote establishment candidates," Democrats like Utah's Rep. Jim Matheson "will have an opportunity in the future," Wasserman Schultz said.
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