SALT LAKE CITY — One man sat on a chair in a corner of the Grand America Hotel's Bagatelle Room making a sign for Utah Sen. Mike Lee.
"Thank you Mike Lee," it read in thick black letters, under which the man, Jared Carman, wrote "Obamacare," circling it and drawing a diagonal line across in red marker.
"Here's my sign," Carman said as the senator entered the room. "Thanks for what you're doing."
The Tea Party Express also showed its appreciation for Lee by coming to Salt Lake City Wednesday and endorsing Lee's 2016 Senate campaign.
"We need more conservatives just like Senator Mike Lee who are there to protect the Constitution and fight for the American people," Amy Kremer, national chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, said.
She said Lee's knowledge of and dedication to the Constitution and his willingness to fight against the Affordable Care Act make him a conservative candidate the tea party continues to push and endorse.
This announcement comes as Lee has focused remarks away from mentioning the tea party by name, instead referring to it as a "grass-roots conservative movement." He told the Deseret News that the shift was an effort to be more inclusive, not an attempt to distance or detach himself from the group.
Kremer said the media have read too much into Lee's vocabulary.
"I think if he was trying to distance himself from the tea party, he wouldn't be here," Kremer said, as she and the senator shared the podium to promote conservative ideals and fight the Affordable Care Act, commonly refered to as Obamacare.
Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz fought against the Affordable Care Act, ultimately contributing to a government shutdown as they and others sought to prevent funding for the act. That action brought praise from Kremer.
"It's because that's what the people wanted. That's exactly what the people wanted and that's why Senator Lee and Senator Cruz had the platform that they did. Because the people gave them the platform," Kremer said in support of Lee.
Throughout his remarks Wednesday, Lee echoed the message he gave in a November speech at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual Friends of the Family banquet: that the Republican Party needs to cease being the "party of 'no.'"
Lee expressed gratitude for the support of tea party officials and compared today's Republican Party to America in 1773. It took 14 years for the country to move from fighting against the negative aspects of the government to get to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where they set forth a vision of their ideal government, he said.
Conservatives today need to "go from protesting against the kind of government we don't want to identifying what we do want out of our government."
Lee also drew similarities between the current state of Washington and the nation, and the emergence of Ronald Reagan as a leader after his unsuccessful presidential candidacy bid against incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976.
The party found "a leader for the ages" in Reagan, who helped lead the party toward "a conservative reform agenda," Lee said. "They developed that agenda and they ran with it," Lee said, which led to Reagan's presidential election in 1980.
"That's what we've got to do now. We need a conservative reform agenda that will help focus the attention on what we as conservatives are for and not just what we are against."29 comments on this story
Kremer said the tea party gave its early endorsement to Lee because of rumblings of others ready to oppose him.
"The chatter from some individuals and media outlets about a primary against Senator Mike Lee is shameful and destructive. That's why we feel it's important to come out early and announce our endorsement of Senator Mike Lee for the U.S. Senate," Kremer said, in a printed statement released at Wednesday's event.
The tea party aims to limit the "size, cost and intrusiveness of the federal government," Kremer said, and it accepts all who are passionate about the same.