The Morning Line: Steve King: Iowa Conservatives Looking for Their Obama

BY David Chalian  March 25, 2011 at 9:15 AM EDT

The Morning Line

Republican Congressman Steve King says Iowa conservatives might be looking for “a fresh face, a new candidate” in 2012 — similar to how “Barack Obama stepped into that role for the Democrats here” in 2008.

“I think Republicans are looking in the same way right now,” King told the Morning Line. “That doesn’t preclude anybody and that includes those who might be the front-runners now as compared to those who might be considered long shots.”

King is hosting a day-long conference in Des Moines Saturday that will give hundreds of Iowa conservatives a chance to size up as many as six potential Republican presidential candidates.

The event will feature speeches from Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

There will also be panel discussions on topics such as “Family Values” and “ObamaCare Repeal.”

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a Tea Party favorite who has repeatedly brushed off talk of a possible presidential bid, will deliver the keynote address at Saturday evening’s banquet.

Many of the early front-runners will not be making the trip to Iowa, including former Govs. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., and Sarah Palin, R-Alaska. King wouldn’t get into specifics about why certain individuals decided not to participate, although he did indicate that scheduling conflicts were generally the reason for the no-shows.

King said one thing is clear: The last two years have Iowa conservatives eager to start kicking the tires on all their potential choices. “They want to get started. They are impatient. They are frustrated with Barack Obama,” King said.

“There’s an America that hasn’t settled down and been complacent thinking that all the problems of America were solved in the election last November,” King added. “They understand that it’s going to take the 2012 election, maybe the 2014 election and who knows beyond that. But, eternal vigilance is, I think, going to be the guideline that they come to town with in their minds.”

King expects the activists attending Saturday’s conference will want to hear the candidates’ positions on issues like marriage and life. Social conservatives typically play a significant role in deciding the winner of the Republican caucuses in Iowa.

According to entrance polls conducted in 2008, Evangelical Christians made up 60 percent of Republican caucus-goers and nearly half of them voted for that year’s winner, Mike Huckabee.

Gov. Huckabee would likely start off the favorite to win Iowa again, but his intentions about making a second run for the White House remain unclear. If he does opt out, that could blow the caucuses wide open for another social conservative, such as Bachmann or Pawlenty (who both hail from neighboring Minnesota), to claim the key nominating prize.

King said he expects to make an endorsement sometime after the Straw Poll in August. For the moment, he is focused on keeping the national political spotlight on Iowa.

“What I want to do is encourage the debate, the open dialogue, and I want to encourage all the presidential candidates — come to Iowa, engage in this process, and by doing so it’s a real opportunity for retail politics,” King said, defending Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“This is real retail politics and it’s unique in the country. So, I want to preserve it and protect it, and I want to promote it as a means that regular people have a path to the presidency.”

MORE 2012 MUST-READS

  • Dan Balz of The Washington Post wisely explores how the potential Republican presidential candidates are tackling the Libya issue and contrasting themselves with President Obama … up to a point.

“The 2012 contenders want Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi out. They want the United States to lead. They are skeptical of the role of the United Nations and the Arab League. They want no protracted engagement. But few have offered anything approaching an exit strategy.”

  • Pegged to her current trip to Iowa, aides to Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., made clear that she is likely to form an exploratory committee by June.

  • POLITICO’s Jonathan Martin places Romney’s path to the nomination front and center. Romney advisers tell Martin they are anticipating a “slog” of a race for delegates more like the 2008 Democratic nomination contest than the momentum driven and quickly wrapped previous Republican contests.

“With glaring weaknesses in two of the traditional early states, an increased number of contests allocating delegates on a proportional basis and a capacity, thanks to his own deep pockets and a growing stable of donors, to raise significant cash, Romney’s second White House bid relies on outlasting the competition.”

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

The odds are pretty good that the Republican presidential field will include a Paul, but it might not be the one everyone was expecting.

Freshman Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Thursday he might enter the race if his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, decides not to run, reports Joseph Gerth and James Carroll of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“I think there will be one on the ballot,” said the younger Paul in an interview following a speech to the Louisville Rotary Club. “I think there is a good chance of that.”

On a visit to New Hampshire Thursday Ron Paul said he was still “considering” a possible bid, but that he’s “not on the verge of deciding,” reports Manchester’s WMUR.

The elder Paul, who enjoys strong support among Libertarian conservatives, has sought the presidency twice before, in 1988 and 2008. His fund-raising prowess is well-proven, hauling in more than $34 million for his campaign three years ago. That money did not translate to votes, however, as he failed to win a single primary or caucus.

The younger Paul, an ophthalmologist from Bowling Green, Ky., was elected in 2010 with strong Tea Party support. He has has not been shy about challenging the GOP establishment in his first few months in office, issuing his own budget proposal to slash $500 billion in just this year alone, and working on a plan to reform Social Security.

That willingness to buck the status quo could make for some interesting debate moments, but it’s unclear if such an approach would register with a broad swath of the GOP base. Without such a connection, the younger Paul would likely meet a similar fate to his father’s unsuccessful bids for the White House.

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