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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, speak during an interview in the home of Steve Harmsen Friday September 13, 2013. Lee says he won't make efforts to defeat GOP incumbents in upcoming elections.
Cruz, Lee won’t challenge sitting GOP senators

First Published Oct 30 2013 04:18 pm • Last Updated Oct 30 2013 08:58 pm

Washington • Hoping to reduce tension with their Republican colleagues, Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz say they won’t get involved with the Senate Conservatives Fund to try defeating incumbent GOP senators in primary races.

In a private meeting with GOP senators, Cruz said that he and Lee wouldn’t endorse or fundraise to hurt their fellow elected officials, a move that could help alleviate angst swirling around the two tea party darlings who faced heated criticism from within their own Republican ranks for trying to use the budget showdown to halt funding for the Affordable Care Act.

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Cruz and Lee skipped the Senate GOP caucus meeting on the day House and Senate leaders forged a deal to reopen the shuttered government but were present Wednesday at a luncheon where Cruz made the overture.

Lee, who benefited from the Senate Conservatives Fund in his own battle to topple Utah’s then-Sen. Bob Bennett, didn’t endorse anyone last year in Sen. Orrin Hatch’s primary re-election bid against challenger Dan Liljenquist, and Lee’s spokesman says there’s nothing new about the way the senator plans to operate.

"This is not in any way a reaction to the feedback that he got from his Republican colleagues," said spokesman Brian Phillips."

Lee, though, will still be involved with the group on policy issues, Phillips added.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, which featured Lee in a recent advertisement against Obamacare, says tea party senators have not been calling the shots, anyway.

"We have enjoyed working with Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul on several policy issues this year, but we won’t be asking them to support our candidates," Executive Director Matt Hoskins said in a statement recently.

The signal from Cruz and Lee that they wouldn’t work against their own Senate colleagues was welcomed by the senators. Politico reported that several GOP members thanked the two at the meeting for assuaging their concerns.

Republican campaign consultants said it was a smart move going forward.

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"[The Senate Conservatives Fund] is a cancer on the Republican Party that lines its pockets by misleading conservatives and attacking Republicans," said Brian Walsh, a former strategist with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Senators who have been raising money for them in the past are right to distance themselves so that our party can be united in the effort to win back the Senate in 2014."

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