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Steve King Aspires to National Name

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Rep. Steve King hopes an early alliance with Sen. Jim DeMint amplifies his voice in the presidential caucuses held in his pivotal state.

“I think the voice of Jim DeMint on the other side is really important because some said that my amendment would be difficult to take up in the Senate, that they would never consider it and take it up,” King said before the CR vote. “Well that’s not true, and Jim DeMint can tell you that. He can say, ‘Send it, I welcome it.’ That’s a useful thing.”

King has said he is not interested in running for higher office, unlike Bachmann, who is publicly toying with the idea. Instead, he is looking to gain stature as a kingmaker in his influential home state.

So far, however, he has struggled in that role. He endorsed former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008; the one-time television star finished a distant third behind former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. 

King also sought to campaign for a host of GOP House candidates last cycle, but political aides said his requests often went unanswered. Indeed, freshman Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) canceled a joint fundraiser with King in June after King told a conservative radio host that President Barack Obama “has a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race on the side that favors the black person.” 

“He’s put himself out there on the far right on a few issues that I think could potentially damage his credibility,” a GOP strategist said of King. “But with that said, he’s from the right state and the right area to have an impact on the national debate over the course of the next year.” 

Still, the strategist cautioned, “He has an opportunity to earn some significant political capital, but the question is how effectively is he going to do it?” 

DeMint isn’t the only high-profile conservative King has reached out to. King moved much of his Congressional office to the headquarters of the Conservative Political Action Conference two weeks ago “because that’s the networks we need to work in,” he said. He reached out to former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who is mulling a presidential bid, seeking support for his health care amendment. King noted his push earned him some buzz in conservative media circles and sent a message to GOP leaders that his efforts should be taken seriously. 

“I want to keep [leadership] interested,” King said. “I don’t want them to think that the best tactic is to try to marginalize me. I want them to take the political capital that I and the people I work with have and use it to reach a common cause.”

In that respect, King is taking a different tack than Bachmann or DeMint, who have almost nonexistent relationships with Congressional leaders and have opted instead for go-it-alone strategies. Still, King said he would continue to work with both of his conservative colleagues. 

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