Tuesday, August 16, 2011

AMES — U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, was without peer on stage Saturday at the Iowa Republican straw poll in Ames.

He connected with the Hilton Coliseum audience, largely populated with the state’s most active conservatives, in a way not even his close friend, congressional ally and Iowa straw poll winner Congresswoman Michele Bachmann could.

King lamented the debt, took on Keynsian economics, referenced Adam Smith, and characterized the economic-stimulus plan of President Obama and Democratic allies as a “giant chain letter.”

What’s more, his verbal assault on health-care reform was unrivaled.

“He (Obama) nationalized your skin and everything inside it,” King said.

King inspires conservative Republicans who speak of him in passionately loyal terms you don’t often hear. They trust him as they do few others. There’s simply no one better at giving voice to working-class Republican anxiety and anger.

So it’s fair to ask: Would Steve King make a strong vice presidential candidate in 2012?

I raised the question with a number of Republicans over the weekend, and none of them dismissed it.

“I have no better friend in Congress than Steve King, and I just think the world of him,” U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said. “This country would be blessed to have him as president, as vice president, is blessed to have him as a member of Congress.”

Months ago, Taking Note predicted that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is the odds-on favorite for the GOP vice presidential nomination. He brings Florida and Latino voters. And imagine a Texas-Florida ticket with Lone Star State Gov. Rick Perry at the top, backed by Rubio.

That considered, King takes his share of assets to a Republican presidential campaign.

First, Iowa is a general-election swing state, and King’s enormous popularity in western Iowa, coupled with home-state pride in seeing a Hawkeye Stater in a VP candidate role, moves a key state into the Republican count.

Additionally, King is battle-tested on the national scene in a way Rubio is not. King’s a frequent cable-TV guest on Fox. But he’s confident enough to do interviews with liberal bloggers, too. He knows the traps and tricks of interrogators and is skilled at navigating such situations.

Moreover, he’s fierce and tireless and could take the fight to the Obama campaign in the Upper Midwest with a genuine just-folks language. King could hold the base and allow the Republican nominee to move to the center.

If the GOP has a southerner in Perry as the presidential candidate, King looks even more promising as a vice presidential contender.

One other factor: King has a long history of making provocative if not ill-advised statements. In the fall of 2005, King referred to widely disgraced red-baiter Sen. Joseph McCarthy as a “hero for America.” In 2003 he compared homosexuals to unicorns and leprechauns. In 2006, King suggested that iconic journalist Helen Thomas, then 85 years old, was ugly in a joke about radical Islam’s belief that martyrs will be rewarded with virgins in the afterlife.

We haven’t heard a comment of this variety from King in a long time. What he said about Obama on Saturday is fair game — whether you agree with it or not.

King’s rhetorical restraint or new PR strategy may very well mean he’s actually auditioning for the vice presidency, one well-placed Republican suggested when I noted the absence of incendiary statements from King in the last year or so.

Whether he’s angling for it or not, at the very least King deserves a look as a vice presidential candidate.

He proved that in Ames Saturday.