Early Hints of Shutdown Backlash in . . . Utah?

The backlash is beginning to materialize

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J. Scott Applewhite / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah

Judging from the behavior of elected leaders in Washington, six days of a shuttered government hasn’t been enough time for the polls to convince Republicans that they picked the wrong fight, or to persuade Democrats that they need to start negotiating. But the backlash is beginning to materialize. Among the most interesting signs: a poll from Utah’s Deseret News, which reveals that most of the state’s voters don’t believe interrupting government functions in an effort to stop Obamacare was worthwhile. The article goes on to note:

Nearly half of the Utahns surveyed also disapprove of the tea party’s influence on the shutdown that began Tuesday, and more than one-third disapprove of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a leader in the battle that led to the budget impasse.

“Utahns are conservative but pragmatic,” said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. “Utahns expect effectiveness and efficiency and results out of their government, not ideological tantrums.”

Jowers is a Romney Republican, so the cutting quote isn’t too surprising. But the poll numbers may be alarming. The Beehive State is the reddest in the U.S. It’s also where place where the Tea Party movement claimed its first RINO scalp. Back in May of 2010, five months before the Republican Party captured the House in a national wave, a few thousand conservative activists flooded Utah’s GOP nominating convention and toppled three-term Republican Senator Bob Bennett. By nearly any measure, Bennett was a solid conservative. But he supported the bank bailouts and the individual mandate, and he was pro-earmark (a stance that recent congressional gridlock might argue for reviving), and so out he went. In came Lee, a little-known but ideologically pure conservative.

Since entering the Senate, Lee has been as advertised: a Tea Party stalwart. He has been a reliable conservative vote on every piece of legislation, big or small. The scorecard compiled by Heritage Action for American ranks Lee as one of two senators with a 100% conservative rating; the other is Ted Cruz. And while Cruz got most of the credit, Lee was the original champion of the push to use the Sept. 30 government-funding deadline to fight Obamacare. If his negatives are rising, that may serve as a warning to Republicans in swing states.

Just don’t expect it to change Lee’s view that the government shutdown is a good place to take a stand on a health-care law that he describes in devastating terms. According to Brian Phillips, Lee’s communications director, the vast majority of the senators constituents have voiced support for his position. “I’m probably understating it to say it’s 100 to 1 in favor of what Senator Lee is doing,” says Phillips. “Today we’ve received probably 60 or 70 calls, and two of them have been negative.”

Lee isn’t up for reelection until 2016.