Steve King a Wild Card if He Jumps in 2016 GOP Primaries
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News broke this week that U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, will be heading to South Carolina later this month, sparking buzz that he is considering running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
King will head to the Palmetto State at the end of August to attend the Charleston Meeting which features prominent conservatives from the political and the business worlds. King will also meet with prominent Republicans in Charleston at an event organized by Lin Bennett who currently serves as the vice chairman of the state GOP.
While he has only been in Congress for little more than a decade, King has won national attention -- and more than a little notoriety -- for his colorful and often controversial statements. During the 2008 presidential election, King pointed to Barack Obama’s middle name of Hussein, insisting people who support Islamic terrorism would rejoice more in his election than the 9/11 attacks.
Last month, King ripped the immigration reform backed by the “Gang of Eight” which passed the Senate at the end of June. King had harsh words for immigrants.
“For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King said about immigrants in July.
King showed no sign of retreating in recent days. "If I insulted anybody, it could have only been drug smugglers, just the drug smugglers, and I probably didn't do an adequate job of insulting drug smugglers, but the people who want to disparage what I said ... what they're really doing is defending drug smugglers,” King said this week.
If he enters the contest, King will be running against history. No sitting member of the U.S. House has been elected president since James Garfield did it in 1880. King’s Iowa roots may not help him much as candidates from early states have stumbled in recent elections. Tom Harkin won the Iowa caucus during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992 but he went nowhere after that. Bob Smith of New Hampshire did even worse when he sought the Republican presidential nomination in the 2000 election cycle. Going nowhere in the Republican contest, Smith left the GOP to continue his campaign as an independent well before the primaries started. When a Senate committee chairmanship opened, Smith left the contest and went back to the Republican ranks.
Still, King could have a major impact in shaping the race. Conservatives like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee relied heavily on evangelical support from northwest Iowa in their surprise wins in previous caucuses. Many of these voters would back King who has represented the area in Des Moines and Washington for almost 20 years.
King could also score points on immigration during the debate. Being tough on immigration didn’t help Tom Tancredo, a longtime proponent of securing the border, during his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. But it did help Pat Buchanan’s surprisingly strong presidential bids in 1992 and 1996.
While it’s unlikely King will be the GOP’s candidate or even break into the top tier, he does have a chance of shaping the race which could cause the Republican establishment some headaches as they look to win-over Hispanic voters. Despite Harkin retiring in 2014, King has decided not to run for the Senate. A presidential bid is a real possibility for the Iowa congressman.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.