Mia Love: I probably would have voted for that lame budget deal

A nice catch by the Right Scoop and a useful complement to yesterday’s post about Jim Matheson’s retirement. The budget deal by itself is too penny-ante to imperil her standing among grassroots righties, I think, but between this, her criticism of Mike Lee’s “defund” tactics, and the fact that she recently refused to call herself a tea partier for fear of being “labeled,” I wonder if she won’t end up with a contested primary after all. The litmus test may be the next debt-ceiling standoff: If she ends up supporting a small ask or quick compromise on that too, maybe some opportunistic Utah conservative will see an opening and jump in.

“But wait,” you say. “Why would a candidate running in a deep red state, which ushered in the tea-party era by replacing Bob Bennett with Mike Lee, take a more moderate line this time?” Two reasons. One: She’s running in a district that, while Republican on balance, was blue enough to send Matheson to Congress for seven terms. The further right she goes now, the greater the risk that she gets a credible Democratic challenger. She’d probably win anyway, but having lost to Matheson despite having Mitt Romney at the top of the ballot and a high national profile by House standards, she naturally figures she should take fewer chances this time. Two: I linked this Utah poll from October yesterday but go look at it now if you haven’t yet. Mike Lee’s approval rating took a hit back home during the shutdown, with 57 percent of Utahns saying they wanted him to compromise on a budget even if it meant funding ObamaCare. A poll of Utah “insiders” taken later the same month showed a majority skeptical that Lee would ever fully shed the baggage of the “defund” episode. The lesson Love’s taken from all that, presumably, is to avoid shutdowns at all costs, and to even avoid too close of an association with a tea-party movement that’s more willing to tolerate a shutdown in the name of its achieving its goals than, say, John McCain is.

This really is the smart play politically, though. Conservatives respect her, rightly so, for risking endless left-wing nastiness by embracing a party that black women especially aren’t supposed to belong to. She can afford to burn a little of that political capital in the name of better positioning herself for the general election. Besides, she knows the national party would love her to have this seat and will do what it can to help her. Why alienate them by dumping on Boehner/Ryan?

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