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DES MOINES, Iowa — Addressing the Iowa Freedom Summit Saturday afternoon, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, challenged attendees to help nominate a presidential candidate who is "a principled, positive and proven" conservative.
"The principled conservative is the one who – when he disagrees with you on an issue – admits it, and has an authentically conservative reason for doing so.
"That’s how you can tell the difference between someone who is a conservative on the stump – and someone who is truly a conservative in his head and in his heart."
Lee was among a packed agenda of well-known conservatives and up-and-comers who addressed a sold-out Iowa crowd at the historic Hoyt Sherman Place. Political pundits describe the event as the opening bell of the Republican presidential campaign.
A proven leader, Lee said, is someone who has won elections and has demonstrated he or she deserved to win.
That is "someone who has stood on principle when the going got tough, and has the battle scars that prove it. Yet also someone who has shown he can win broad mandates and build diverse coalitions to overcome entrenched interests."
Assessing the field of possible contenders, Lee remarked that "the 2016 field of candidates could be the best that conservatives have ever seen."
In his introductory remarks, Lee clarified his own political intentions with a humorous aside: "For those of you I haven’t had a chance to meet yet: my name is Mike Lee. I’m from Utah. And I’m not running for president. I’m probably the only person up here today who can say that."
Even so, Lee said those not in the race have an important role selecting the eventual nominee. The next president, he said, "will have to clean up the messes created at home and abroad by President Obama and his allies in Congress over the last several years. We are less safe. We are less secure. We are less prosperous than we were just a few years ago."
Moreover, Americans are facing a deficit of opportunity, Lee said.
"This opportunity deficit is trapping poor families in poverty, rigging the system to benefit political and economic elites, and squeezing the middle class in between.
"We’ve got a federal government – and a bipartisan political status quo – that works for insiders on Wall Street, K Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue... while working families on Main Street are ignored, forgotten, and left behind."
Conservatives must work hard to turn the tide, Lee said.
"Since Ronald Reagan left the White House in 1989, we’ve had six presidential elections. My party’s nominee—the Republican nominee—has lost the popular vote in five of those six elections.
"And I’m here to tell you, if we don’t choose a positive, principled, proven conservative in 2016, that number is going to be a disappointing six out of seven. Those are the stakes."