SALT LAKE CITY — Congressional candidate Mia Love rejected the tea party label Wednesday and said she disagreed with how Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and others in the conservative grass-roots movement fought the new health care law.
"I consider myself a Republican in the state of Utah who represents everyone," Love told the Deseret News. "People try to put labels on you, and I don't believe in labels."
Love was considered a tea party candidate in her unsuccessful 2012 bid for Congress in the then-new 4th District, receiving support from the national tea party group FreedomWorks in her close race against Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
The Saratoga Springs mayor backed by national GOP leaders in that race said Wednesday she didn't "even know what to say" when asked if she was trying to distance herself from the tea party.
Later, Love said she's "never allowed anyone to put me in a box."
Love, who appeared alongside former Florida congressman and tea party leader Allen West at the Salt Lake Community College campus in Sandy, also questioned the tea party's tactics against the Affordable Care Act.
"Shutting down government did not stop Obamacare," Love said of the battle against the new law led by Lee and other tea party Republicans that resulted in a federal government shutdown and a near-default on the nation's debts.
"What he was trying to do, I understand," Love said of Lee, who initially backed another Republican in her 2012 race. "I'm not going to bash Mike Lee for trying to keep his promises. I think I would have taken a different approach."
Love joins a growing list of Republicans critical of the tea party's tactics, including former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Even Lee has said in recent speeches the tea party needs to shift away from being the "party of no."
West also questioned the strategy of refusing to pass the budget bill needed to keep government operating if it included money for the health care law. Polls showed the strategy hurt the GOP nationally and Lee's support in Utah.
"If you have a strategic vision, you see the minefields. I believe that it was potentially a minefield," West said of the tea party effort, calling on the movement to focus more on proposing solutions.
West said he believes the tea party will survive and that Love should not separate herself from the movement. Even though "a lot of people want to see that circular firing squad," he said the Republican Party can still win in 2014.
"Why would you want to disassociate yourself with a constitutional conservative grass-roots movement? So many people don't understand that 'taxed enough already,' that's what it stands for," West said.
Matheson, who is once again being challenged by Love, said "she can't reject the tea party label. She embraced it so much in the last campaign, and she's with the poster child of the tea party movement, Allen West."
The only Democratic member of Utah's congressional delegation said West represents "what's wrong in politics today. This is a guy who is reckless and irresponsible on so many issues."
Utah State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said Love, like West "and her tea party colleagues, puts ideology first, country second" and has "further entangled herself with the extremist far reaches of her party."
Love declined to disavow controversial statements made by West, including that many Democrats in Congress are secret communists.
"He's got his opinions and I've got my opinions," she told reporters.
Love and West both spoke on the health care law and other issues at a fundraising luncheon and then at a town hall meeting held on the community college campus.
At one point during the early afternoon town hall meeting attended by more than 50 people, West said he would challenge the contention that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land after being upheld by the Supreme Court.
Before he could make his argument about the issues he had with the status of the law, Love interrupted. "Slavery was the law of the land, too, wasn't it?" she asked. "That doesn't mean it shouldn't be changed."
Dana Goff, a former western regional director of the Young Republican National Federation from Murray who attended the town hall meeting, said she is a fan of both Love and West, but no longer supports the tea party.
"The tea party is so far right, they don't want to compromise with anybody," Goff said. "I'm looking for someone who can actually get things done."