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Conservatives push party unity at Iowa fundraiser

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Republican Party needs a unified reform agenda to succeed in 2014, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said Saturday at an Iowa fundraiser where conservatives including Sarah Palin gathered to take punches at lawmakers in Congress.

Lee, considered instrumental in leading the fight that brought on the 16-day partial government shutdown, acknowledged that the lack of an agenda has separated the party.

"I think that we can all agree that there is something missing in the Republican Party today," he said. "In fact, one could say there's a gaping hole right in the middle of the Republican Party today. That is, this hole, this gulf that separates the grassroots of the party and the conservative movement from the more establishment leaders. I'm convinced that this hole is precisely the size and precisely the shape of a unifying conservative reform agenda."

Lee was among several speakers at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's 13th annual banquet at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. Palin, the former Alaska governor, noted the need to explore "our better vision for moving the poor and underemployed out of poverty and out of the shackles of dependency on government."

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who has yet to make an official announcement on his plans to run for re-election, received several calls of support from the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition. He noted how he came together with Iowa lawmakers across the aisle to pass critical legislation in the state. Other speakers included Rep. Steve King of Iowa, and conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafy.

The fundraiser brought out hundreds of people for a dinner that included chicken and green beans. Supporters such as Susan Schweitzer, a nurse from Greenfield in west central Iowa, said she was excited to see Lee, Palin and Schlafy.

"I would have come to see any one of them," she said. "It's like a trifecta here."

Lee said the party needs an agenda that tackles critical issues like ending poverty and reducing the power of what he called special interest groups. He said the agenda must include but transcend welfare reform, and focus on education, immigration, health care and the criminal justice and prison systems.

"This new agenda has to recognize that work for abled-body adults is not a necessary evil. Work is an essential pathway to personal happiness and prosperity," he said.

Lee said conservatives are frustrated with Congress on issues like the stagnant economy and the costs of the Affordable Care Act, but he acknowledged that it's important for the party to come up with solutions.

"We need to actually stop and think deeply about the kind of government we do want," he said.

Kathy Oltmans, a resident of Council Bluffs in western Iowa, also said she was at the fundraiser to support Lee. She called herself a conservative who believed the Republican Party was not divided.

"There are some candidates in our party who are less conservative than I am, but I would still vote for them than Democrat," she said.

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