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Steve King Plays Outsized Role in 2012 Race

File Photo
Rep. Steve King (right) listens to Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum address a crowd at the Ames straw poll at Iowa State University earlier this month.

King talks about Bachmann, one of his closest pals on Capitol Hill, like a political crush. When fair-goers asked about the Republican field, King brought up the Minnesota Congresswoman’s name unprompted three times, more than any other candidate. He lingered around the Des Moines Register Soapbox stage at the state fair until her remarks, even when they ran late. As Bachmann made her way to the stage, her handlers pointed out King’s location in the mess of people. They quickly embraced before she took the stage.

The next day, in Bachmann’s air-conditioned tent at the straw poll, King was all smiles as he described the Congresswoman to her supporters.

“I’m proud and happy to call her my friend and encourage this campaign, and thank all of you for coming here and be part of this straw poll,” King called out. “Let’s go take America back!”

Before Bachmann became the first woman to claim an Ames straw poll victory, King also stumped for former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain. King said he would have stopped at every tent if time allowed it, chalking up the tight schedule to his staff — even though he spent significant time greeting activists in the parking lot earlier in the day.

“In the Bachmann tent, the band started playing in the middle of my speech,” he added. “That shortened me up quite a lot. I had a lot of things I might have said, but I didn’t get it done.”

Later on, King greeted Santorum’s supporters at a much less populated tent in a different corner of the parking lot. Santorum wasn’t there yet, but his aides pleaded with King to wait a few minutes while the underdog presidential candidate finished some media interviews.

“Can you tell him to wait and meet some more voters?” a Santorum aide asked King’s handlers, including his son and campaign manager, Jeff King.

When they shared the stage together, King described their long late-night phone calls. When King needed a pen on stage, Santorum quickly rushed to his aide with the writing utensil. King concluded, “Thanks, Rick, I appreciate being your friend!”

“He’s Mr. Conservative in the state of Iowa, and he’s done a great job in the area of Iowa that really matters a lot in the caucuses, which is the conservative western part of the state,” Santorum later told Roll Call. “His support would mean a lot to any candidate.”

Many Republican candidates covet a King endorsement this cycle. After all, other high-ranking Iowa Republicans plan to stay on the sidelines in the primary, such as Gov. Terry Branstad and Rep. Tom Latham. King’s endorsement shares the spotlight only with GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, who will endorse a candidate in October despite staying neutral in the 2008 presidential race.

That year, King endorsed former Sen. Fred Thompson’s (R-Tenn.) presidential campaign a few weeks before the caucuses, but it was too late to make much of a difference, as Thompson finished in third place. That’s why King plans to move up his timetable this year.

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