The Iowa Republican meandered through the crowds of conservative activists like one of the nine candidates on the ballot, stopping every few feet to greet a potentially new voter. His aides wished he would keep walking, halfheartedly suggesting he wear sunglasses to make him less recognizable as they gazed down at their watches.
“I hardly pay any attention to myself. I’ve forgotten about me,” King told Roll Call. “I haven’t initiated anything about my campaign – others have. But it’s not because I’m steering away from it on purpose, I just forgot about it. I’m wrapped up in this presidential race.”
It’s good to be King — at least this weekend.
Presidential candidates kissed King’s ring in hopes of earning the favor of the largest conservative grass-roots following in the state. After five terms in Congress, King’s cable news credentials and consequent conservative fame have catapulted him into the echelon of caucus endorsement royalty with some of the most tenured Iowa Republicans.
Four years ago, King didn’t have his own tent at the Ames straw poll. He showed up, attended and went home.
But this quadrennial event is different for the Congressman for another reason: King will run to represent Ames in the newly redrawn 4th Congressional district, and his race against Christie Vilsack, the former first lady of Iowa, will be the toughest of his career.
“He’s got a more competitive district now than he’s ever had before,” Gentry Collins, the former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party and former RNC political director, told Roll Call. “I think he needs to be a little more careful about his own political fortunes and maybe a little less focused on presidential politics.”
But that’s not what people pestered King about on that sunny weekend in central Iowa earlier this month. As often as a dozen times each hour, reporters and activists wanted to know whether he’d endorsed a candidate yet.
“I suppose I should have a flash card I should show to people” with that answer, King quipped.
King swears he won’t back anyone until after his Labor Day weekend forum with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). But as King hopped from the Iowa State Fair to candidate tents and his own exhibition during the straw poll weekend, it’s easy to see which Republican candidates are his favorites.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.