Saturday, April 19, 2008

King Rallies Troops In 2nd District

King Rallies Troops In 2nd District

“Nobody wonders where I stand,” Congressman Steve King told 2nd Congressional District Republicans Saturday, making a detour out of his own 5th District to rally the eastern Iowa GOP troops at their district convention in Iowa City.

In a brief Iowa Independent interview, King stood behind the rhetorical style that’s earned him scorn from liberals and Worst Person In The World “honors” from the media, but solid support from Republican activists.

“I just tell the truth, and I’m waiting for somebody to stand up and say ‘I have a different number, I have a different statistic,’” he said. “But they don’t. They just want to call names. So when you get to that point you’ve already won the debate.”

King, whose high profile endorsement of Fred Thompson failed to give the former Tennessee senator much traction in the January caucuses, now says he’s fully behind the party’s certain nominee, John McCain. “There are some folks who have a ways to go yet, but it’s coming, because they understand the rationale,” he told Iowa Independent.

“With John McCain we can rebuild the Reagan coalition and become a governing coalition again,” he told delegates.

King strongly defended McCain’s position on the Iraq war and attacked the Democrats. “You cannot tell people you support the troops if you do not support their mission there,” he said. “Those things are linked together.

Iowa Republican Party chair Stewart Iverson echoed King’s thoughts on the war. “We all want to see this brought to and end as quickly as possible,” Iverson told delegates. “The difference is, we want to win.”

Supreme Court appointments are one of the critical issues to Republican activists, and King told delegates the next president may appoint two to four justices that may be able to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be the model for Obama or Hillary,” he said. “Many of us have worked a lifetime to get here, and if we go backward in this presidential race, we can write this off for my lifetime.”

Despite his support for McCain, King still acknowledged some disappointment that “we aren’t going to elect a president who supports the Fair Tax.” The flat, consumption based tax was a centerpiece of the Mike Huckabee campaign, and support from the Fair Tax group was credited with helping Huckabee to the second-place finish in the August 2007 straw poll that started him on the road to his caucus victory.

Next weekend’s Democratic conventions are likely to draw heavy attention from state and even national media. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama delegates, and some John Edwards diehards, will face off to elect the state’s first actual national delegates. But Republicans don’t elect national delegates until June, their nomination fight is settled, and the press table was pretty lonely except for the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s James Lynch and myself.

The speeches by King and other party leaders were the highlight of a convention otherwise taken up by election of party officers and platform debate. “I’ll be happy as long as someone throws in eminent domain and property rights” in the platform, said state representative Jeff Kaufmann of Wilton, who has focused on the issue during his two House terms. While he didn’t endorse anyone during the caucuses, Kaufmann says he’s firmly behind McCain. “In my heart, I think he’s the only candidate who gives us a chance and reaches out to independents,” he said.

One of those independents is Hani Elkadi of Iowa City. Elkadi used to be active in the Democrats, but left the party “because of Bill Clinton, to be honest.” He said he is still undecided about many state and federal races, but “that’s the best thing about being an independent.”

One new face at the GOP convention was Clyde Cleveland of Fairfield, the 2002 Libertarian candidate for governor. Cleveland moved to the GOP to support Ron Paul. “We have to turn this country around now,” he said. “We don’t have time to build a third party.”

Cleveland is less than pleased with McCain. “He has an F minus with gun owners. It’s hard for a Goldwater Republican like me, who grew up a constitutionalist, to support him. Is he a lesser of three evils? Sure,” Cleveland said, comparing McCain to Obama and Clinton. “We just have to do the best we can do now.”

Other former supporters of other Republicans are more positive. “I’ve got real hope for McCain,” said state senator Jim Hahn of Muscatine, who was an early Mitt Romney supporter. “He’s got some good attributes.”

Red Watson of Fairfield echoed the sentiment that McCain was the best of the three remaining major candidates, but was more enthusiastic than Cleveland. “McCain believes that life begins at conception,” he said.

Congressional candidate Lee Harder said he is hopeful that McCain “may be more conservative as a president than he was as a senator.”

Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey acknowledged 2006 was a tough year for Iowa Republicans in his speech. Northey himself was one of the party’s few bright spots; he took over the agriculture job while his party lost the state house and senate and two congressional seats. “This is built one election at a time,” he said.

As a former state legislator, King says he still keeps a close eye on state issues. He said the Democratic trifecta of governor, house and senate has given Republicans “banner issues for our statehouse candidates to run on,” singling out Renee Schulte of Cedar Rapids, who is running against Democratic freshman Art Staed.

Linn County Republican chair Jim Conklin said, “the party is still growing, though not as fast as I want.” He said the party is coming together after the caucus season, unlike the other party.

“I hope Hillary and Obama keep helping McCain get elected,” he said.

Aside: Steve King’s one-liner when faced with a liberal blogger in a raspberry beret was fully in character: “If I need somebody to go get me a bottle of French wine, can you do that?” My response, of course: “Oui, oui.”

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