Tea party enthusiasts and Democrats were cheered yesterday to hear Representative Steve King say that the "needle has gone over 50 percent" toward him running for Iowa's open U.S. Senate in 2014.
I'm not buying it.
King has previously said he needs to know whether the conservative "energy" is there and whether he can raise enough money for a statewide race. Even before Karl Rove revealed his upcoming power play against far-right Republican Senate candidates, King told a talk radio host in Fort Dodge that the chances were "better than 50 percent" that he'll run.
Kevin Hall of The Iowa Republican blog caught up with King at his Congressional office opening in Mason City on Monday.
Here's my partial transcript:
As I've said, when it was first announced, that was a little more than two weeks ago, that it was 50/50 and I want to do an analytical study on this to come to a logical and a rational conclusion, and my head and my heart and my gut have to come together. That needle has gone over 50 percent, and each day that goes by, on balance, it's more likely, rather than less likely.
But when Karl Rove decided that he was going to make me his national poster child for their elitist attitude of deciding who would be the nominee and who would not be the nominee, now I've got a different battle I need to fight before the way can be cleared to do the analysis. And it's gonna become clear, not just to Iowans but to everyone in this country, that when it comes to nominating candidates for the general election ballot, that's a decision made here in this state by Iowans and no one else. If you go to other states, they need that kind of protection too.
If I would back up in front of Karl Rove's initiative, that would just empower him, and he would go on state after state, candidate after candidate. And I don't think any individual has the wisdom to make those kind of decisions, but I think Iowans together can make those decisions and should. That's the principle. We have to fight this out in the court of public opinion. [...]
I don't know how long that's going to take, but we have to clear the air with that before we can go on with the decision-making process. [...]
No, there's not a timeline on it, but I don't think it's something that should be done urgently, hastily, or emotionally. It needs to be done analytically. [...] If I had made a decision the first day, it would have not allowed for Iowans to weigh in on this. Those that think I should and those that think I shouldn't, let me know, and let me know why. I want to weigh all of that [...] In the end we take all of that and see if my head, heart and gut come together, but part of that also is family and it's faith. If the messages are all right, I'll do this, and if the messages aren't right, I'll tell you.
King went on to talk about how people have underestimated him his entire career, how he survived a challenge from Christie Vilsack, the spouse of a senior member of the president's cabinet. He also said that being one of the consistent voices against Obamacare and for deficit reduction puts him in a strong position going into the 2014 elections, since the 2010 health care reform law will be fully implemented next year.
When Rove's top associate named King as a prime target of the new "Conservative Victory Project," I believe King felt he must not appear to be intimidated. But listen closely to what he said: he has to fight this battle before he can "do the analysis" on a possible Senate bid.
King can keep bragging about defeating Christie Vilsack and special-interest money, but he knows that he was not an underdog going into his 2012 re-election campaign. He was sitting on a large Republican voter registration advantage in his district. His detailed analysis will uncover these simple facts: King beat Vilsack by about 30,000 votes in a district where Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 50,000. King received fewer votes than Mitt Romney did in IA-04 the same year Romney lost Iowa by more than 90,000 votes. That's not the profile of a candidate who can win a statewide election, even allowing for lower Democratic and no-party turnout in a midterm year.
Governor Terry Branstad, who likes King enough to cut a radio spot supporting his re-election last year, has said publicly that he doubts King could win a statewide election.
Rove's attack provided a good burst of publicity for King and an outcry on the tea party wing of the GOP. But at the end of the day, I doubt King will trade his safe perch in IA-04 for a shot at a Senate seat he would probably lose.
I think he needs a way to save face, such as comments from national Republicans recognizing the right of state residents to choose their own nominees, or Rove's team backing away from their claims that he is unelectable. After he finds a pretext for declaring victory against efforts by the "elites" to force him out of the race, King can continue his "decision-making process" and eventually announce that his head, heart and gut don't support a Senate bid.
Tell me why I'm wrong, because I would love to be wrong on this one.
FEBRUARY 17 UPDATE: The Sioux City Journal's Sunday edition includes a feature headlined, "Steve King: Karl Rove won't decide my Senate bid." Excerpts:
Jonathan Collegio, a Conservative Victory Project spokesman, said the group's goal is to support the best candidate who can win against a Democrat. He said they are not specifically targeting King.
"It has less to do with conservative and moderate, and more to do with electability, which is really separate from ideology," he said. "It is a candidate's ability to fundraise, his or her ability to connect with voters and an absence of things in a candidate's past which could cause general election problems."
King, who has won five re-elections, said he's being unfairly targeted and that he has made a career of rebuffing Republican "powers that be."
"I don't accept that," he said. [...]
King said Rove's position has resulted in an outpouring of support and donations. He said the experience has made him move closer to running.
"I'm not finding any place out there where people defend him and attack me," he said. "If I were on the other side of this, if I were in his shoes, I would conclude that I was in bad place, and perhaps step up and apologize and withdraw my statement."
Like I said, all King needs is for someone in Rove's camp to apologize and withdraw the promise to work against King in a GOP primary. Then King can stay out of the Senate race without looking like he's afraid to battle Rove.
Branstad is doing his part by urging Rove to back off.