Knowing this, aides said candidates frequently needle King by joking: “Hey, are we going to send out a press release? I can write it up. You just need to sign it.”
Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the newest entrant into the presidential field, reached out to King for advice several weeks ago. Perry didn’t exactly heed King’s counsel, skipping the straw poll to announce his candidacy on the same day in South Carolina instead. But King’s focus on the presidential race also worries his colleagues. For the first time in his Congressional career, the five-term Republican must seriously campaign for re-election in the right-leaning district. So far, Vilsack has eclipsed King in fundraising, raising two-and-a-half times his haul last quarter, a rare situation for an incumbent.
“Nobody elicits a more faithful and energetic following than Steve King. That said, he needs to begin taking Christie Vilsack a hell of a lot more seriously,” one veteran Iowa Republican strategist said. “His pathetic fundraising numbers are indicative of a problem he’s always had but served as a brutal wake-up call to stop messing around and run an actual campaign. He’ll win, but he’s going to have to be disciplined, a word nonexistent in his vocabulary until now.”
Privately, Republican aides on Capitol Hill confess they’re happy King will be forced to focus on his re-election race instead of rabble-rousing from the right in the House caucus.
King had a different selling point to voters at the Ames straw poll. He told voters that supporting his campaign isn’t just about opposing Vilsack — it also is about U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
“My opponent is a proxy for the secretary of Agriculture who is supported by the president,” King said. “It’s going to be a very expensive race, but if we do a good, effective job, we’ll defeat two Vilsacks instead of just one.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.