Tea Party group endorses Republican Mike Lee in Utah Senate race

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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The Tea Party Express is endorsing Republican Mike Lee for Senate in Utah, a week before the state’s primaries.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Bennett became an early casualty of this election cycle’s anti-establishment mood when he was booted from the primary by finishing third in the state caucus, behind Lee and Tom Bridgewater. Utah has an unusual nominating process, in which a caucus of party voters determine the two candidates to battle it out in the primary.

Lee and Bridgewater will face each other on June 22.

FreedomWorks, another national group prevalent at Tea Party events, endorsed Lee and worked hard in the days leading up to the May caucus to defeat Bennett. Both Lee and Bridgewater have sought to define themselves as true conservatives, apart from Bennett, who they tag a RINO, or “Republican in Name Only.”

The Tea Party Express (TPX), a group of Republican operatives best known for its cross-country bus tours, has been an effective political arm this election, most recently with its endorsement of Nevada senate candidate Sharron Angle. After TPX’s April 15 statement of support, she rose from single digits in the polls to besting a host of Republicans last week for the chance to take on Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

TPX endorsements have not always been welcomed by local and national Tea Party activists, who say the group gives the impression that their endorsements represent the views of the entire grassroots movement. They’ve irked some activists by backing a candidate — like they did Utah and Nevada — in a primary against other conservative candidates who also draw Tea Party support.

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