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Utah Sen. Mike Lee is not up for re-election until 2016, but he received his first endorsement Wednesday.

The Sacramento-based Tea Party Express hailed the Republican senator for standing his ground and steadfastly defending conservative principles in helping lead the fight in October against funding for the Affordable Care Act.

And he might have prevailed, said Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer, if there were more conservatives in Washington, D.C.

"We need more conservatives like Mike Lee there to protect the Constitution and the American people," she said. "He's fighting for what is good for this country."

Kremer called the early endorsement a proactive measure promoting Lee's principles rather than a concern he might face party challenges for his intractable stance over funding "Obamacare." That result: the federal government shut down for 16 days before a compromise kicked in to fund operations through January.

"The chatter from some individuals and media outlets about a primary [challenge] against Sen. Mike Lee is shameful and destructive," Kremer said in a news release. "No Republicans should be attacked for fighting to reduce the size, cost and intrusiveness of government — especially from within his or her own ranks."

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis chuckled about the endorsement, saying "this is one area where we agree with the tea party.

"It would be a tragedy for the state if the Republicans replaced him with somebody else because the Democrats want to beat his," he paused, "posterior. It will be so much easier to beat Mike Lee than everybody else. Mike Lee is so out of step, so out of touch, so in his own world that he's an easy mark."

That's not how the Tea Party Express sees it.

At a news conference in Salt Lake City's Grand America Hotel, Kremer brought out several grass-roots political activists who talked about why they like Lee.

Amelia Powers, 31, of West Mountain in southern Utah County, said that as the mother of an autistic child, she wholeheartedly supported Lee's opposition to a United Nations treaty on the rights of disabled people.

"I'm proud Mike Lee recognized we have plenty of good laws that protect special-needs children and for standing up for my parental rights," she said, adding that she used to live in Canada and is "frightened by the effects of socialized medicine."

Peter Cannon, a retired Army officer living in Farmington, applauded Lee's deep understanding of the Constitution and devotion to protecting liberty, calling him "Utah's George Washington."

But, he warned, "powerful forces of government have arranged to take this patriot down. … It's impossible to love the Constitution and not support Mike Lee."

Dabakis has a different take.

"All he's involved in is this outlandish constitutional view," he said later. "That's his constituency. That's his passion. That's his whole reason for being. It's not the people of Utah."

But Jared Carman of Highland was beaming when he shook Lee's hand.Holding a sign thanking Lee for fighting Obamacare, Carman expressed frustration that the health-care program has been rolled out.

"It's a mess," he said, standing in front of an American flag held by his brother, Stephen. "What can we do now that it's here?"

Lee said that tweaking Obamacare will be insufficient. "Full repeal ultimately is the answer," he said, contending the law "is harming too many good Americans who work too hard" to have the government intervene in their lives and dictate their health-care coverage.

He vowed to carry on the conservative reform agenda initiated by President Ronald Reagan, citing his work with other congressional conservatives to develop solutions to the nation's problems and to defuse a perception they just oppose everything.

"But our job is to oppose those things we think are harmful to the American people," Lee added. He predicted, though, that "it will be more complicated to get out of" Obamacare because Congress buckled and provided start-up funding through January.

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