Appearing on Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program today, Representative Steve King (IA-04) acknowledged that the open U.S. Senate race will be a "slight uphill battle" for any Republican, but asserted that he can see a "path to victory" if he decides to run.
I am still 100 percent convinced that King will opt out of the Senate race eventually, citing personal reasons (not political reality). Nevertheless, his comments on the Senate race are worth reading closely, so I've enclosed them below. You can watch the whole interview or read the full transcript here.
King claimed to be unable to think of any positions he has taken that are "out of step with Iowans." Near the end of this post, I've suggested two issues that would become central features in Bruce Braley's case against King.
As expected, King repeated that he is carefully analyzing a possible Senate race and hasn't made a decision yet. Even a quick look at last year's results in IA-04 suggests that King lost the middle of the electorate, but today he dismissed the suggestion that he is too conservative to win a statewide election in Iowa.
Henderson: Some of your critics have suggested that you could not win a statewide race because of your persona as a very conservative republican. What is that polling data that you mentioned showing you?
King: Well, I wouldn't be able to discuss any real numbers with that polling data here today, Kay. But, you know, I remember hearing that in almost everything that I've tried from a business standpoint to a political standpoint. You can't succeed in business, Steve King, because you don't have any money, you don't have any base to start from. That was 1975. I couldn't succeed when I challenged a 24 year incumbent republican state senator because I didn't know the political arena. And I couldn't win out on a four-way primary in 2002 because of the redistricting plan. So those kind of things, there are always going to be naysayers and detractors. This is, though, first an analytical decision and I think any republican has a slight uphill battle in this state because Iowa has turned a little bit to the left. This won't be a presidential race, President Obama will not be on the ballot and I think that the top of the ticket will be able to control this a lot more than if it had been a presidential year. [...]
Henderson: You just said something interesting, that it will be a slightly uphill battle for any republican who runs. Why?
King: Because we know that President Obama ran very strongly in Iowa and a lot of that machinery is still in place. And I expect he would come in and support the democratic nominee. He made, what, three trips into Iowa in this last race and I saw also President Clinton came in, in the last congressional race. I can't imagine they wouldn't use all of those tools in a U.S. Senate race coming up in 2014.
Borg: Without being specific, political data are coming in on your polling and, again, not specific but you have been speaking in percentages up to now. You said 60/40 and so on that you would or would not run. What is the percentage at right now?
King: Well, the needle is a little over 50/50 and it just really hasn't changed very much. I know now that I've got to get to that final analysis and then we're going to get to a decision relatively soon. But the analytical part -- I'll tell you what is different is this, that until we had the data I couldn't lay out a strategy that I could say with confidence we can build a strategy to win. Now that I see the data I can see that path to victory.
Obradovich: And what does that path to victory look like?
King: Well, it looks like any race in this state over, for U.S. Senate, when this is the first open seat we've had in, what, almost four decades. It will be a jump ball at the end. I think it will be a race that is decided by one percent or less and that would be the case whether a democrat wins or a republicans wins. I think it's going to be very close.
Obradovich: What do you think that this campaign needs to be about?
King: Oh, I'm glad you asked me that. It doesn't need to be about all of the things that the last campaign was about. The difficulty here for a republican is to run on issues. And the other side wants to change the topic. But here's what it needs to be about -- it needs to be about whether we are going to get to a balanced budget and I want to pass a balanced budget amendment to our United States Constitution and do that out of the House and the Senate before we raise the debt ceiling. It's one of the things I'll continue to push on until that vote comes up. Second one needs to be what are we going to do with the Affordable Care Act? I'm for repealing it, I've long been for repealing it and when we see this stack of applications and the premiums going up as high as 400% I think the debate will start in January about what we do with Obamacare.
Henderson: George W. Bush's political guru, Karl Rove, indicated that you might be a target should you choose to run from republicans who might like a candidate who is not as conservative as you to be the party's nominee for the U.S. Senate. How do you address those who say that you are a Todd Akin like person who is prone to saying unusual, wild things?
King: Well, the first part with that would be from St. Patrick's Day last year until Election Day November 6th, eight months I had, on every public schedule I had one to three tracking cameras on me hired by democrats in the Vilsack campaign. Their effort was to try to catch a bit of a phrase or a bit of a clip that they could put into a commercial to run against me. In eight months of constant surveillance they didn't get a single second that they could put into a television or a radio ad. That would be one answer. Second one would be, if Karl Rove is concerned about whether I have verbal discipline I think he would have to admit today that he lacked that when he commented critically of me.
Obradovich: Well, you've mentioned in that fundraising letter that I mentioned before that republicans, your evidence that republicans don't have to change their brand -- what kind of message is that if you choose not to run statewide?
King: It's the same message either way. I am who I am and what I believe in and those that are critics and following up a little bit also more on Kay's question too is that you do not change your principles for the sake of political expediency.
Borg: But I think that what she is asking, if I'm right Kathie, is that what does it say to people if you don't think that you can win on that brand statewide? Is that what you're asking?
Obradovich: Yeah, that's what I'm asking --
King: I think I could win on that brand statewide.
Obradovich: You think you can win on that brand statewide. Okay. So --
King: I think we must. Even more importantly we still -- even if we didn't think we could win, and I do, we must follow through on our principles. Republicans can not rebrand ourselves by compromising our principles. Just because the American people and Iowans re-elected Barack Obama is not a reason for us to abandon our principles.
Obradovich: There are republicans in Iowa, though, who have been saying that a Steve King is not the best candidate to run statewide, that they want somebody that they feel will be perhaps a little bit more attractive to moderates, people in the political middle. What do you say to them?
King: Well, my answer to that would be, can you point out a vote or a position with which you disagree with me? Which position have I taken that is out of step with Iowans? I know of none. When I look at the issues out there and the information that we're working with, Iowans support the positions that I have taken. And so I think that is a strong thing and I think there are many that didn't come out in this last election because they were not energized, that is on the conservative side. I think we should have learned that if we elect a candidate that doesn't stand for very much that we lose a lot of voters over on the conservative side of the agenda and I'm a blue collar guy, I'm a hands on guy and that means too that there are a lot of people that are independents and there are a lot of working, discerning democrats that identify with the positions that I take and the track record and the life history that is part of who I am.
After King's interview ended, Lee Newspapers State Capitol Bureau Chief Mike Wiser commented that the big news was King admitting this race will be an "uphill battle" for any Republican. Like Wiser, I was surprised to hear King say that. Although he pivoted quickly to say his internal polling data shows he could build a winning strategy, I question whether those numbers reflect a realistic "path to victory" for him.
I agree with King about one thing: he is more verbally disciplined than his critics give him credit for. He did not make any huge flubs on the campaign trail last year, nor did he give Vilsack a lot of openings during their seven head to head debates. After watching or listening to five of those debates and many interviews with King, I have reached the conclusion that he plans almost everything he says in public carefully--especially the "crazy" and offensive comments on the highlight reel featured in Vilsack's campaign ads.
King's campaign put together a strong and coherent narrative last year: I am who I am, and I'll always tell you what I believe. You'll never have to guess where I stand, and I'll work very hard to watch your dollars.
Here's the thing, though. Even with such message discipline and well-crafted advertisements, King defeated Vilsack by only about 30,000 votes in a district with 50,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. He fell a little short of Mitt Romney's vote total in the fourth Congressional district, as Romney lost Iowa by about 90,000 votes.
Granted, a midterm election will have far lower turnout than last year's presidential race, especially among no-party voters. I still have trouble understanding where King's "path to victory" lies. In eastern Iowa and the Des Moines suburbs, voters are not going to buy what he's selling.
I can help King out with this one:
Which position have I taken that is out of step with Iowans? I know of none. When I look at the issues out there and the information that we're working with, Iowans support the positions that I have taken.
I know of many, but here are the top two that Bruce Braley would use in a Senate race:
1. King repeatedly supported Paul Ryan's budget, which ends Medicare as we know it while raising taxes on the middle class to pay for tax cuts that help millionaires and billionaires. Braley relentlessly pressed this case against his 2012 Republican challenger Ben Lange.
Any comments on King as a politician or next year's IA-Sen race are welcome in this thread.