"Can Steve King win Iowa seat?" asked the headline in a Politico story. So I asked him. "It is an unknown," the 4th District Republican told me candidly. King has represented the Republican-heavy western/northwestern part of Iowa since Iowans elected him to congress in 2002. In 2010, he considered a run for governor of Iowa before former 4-term Governor Terry Branstad came out of retirement to reclaim his job.
Now, King considers another higher office. He told me he had been considering a run for U.S. Senate before Tom Harkin surprised many last Saturday when the Democrat announced his fifth term that expires in 2014 would be his last.
King said he happened to be on-line answering emails Saturday morning when a trusted adviser sent him a message about Harkin's retirement announcement. The news caught King off-guard, but he trusted it because he trusted the well-connected adviser who had emailed. Since then, King said the emails and calls to his two cell phones have almost been constant (except, he said, they did slow down Sunday, which he appreciated. King tries to keep Sundays for his family).
King said "serious" is a fair way to characterize his interest in risking his relatively safe congressional seat for a shot at a statewide run for senate. "Anybody that's serving in the house of representatives would be foolish not to look at this," King said.
King has heard the concerns his spoken words made for conservative ears won't be what Iowans, particularly moderate Republicans and Independents, want to hear outside of his home district. "Is the support there? I don't know at this point," King admitted.
"I want to look at this and weigh it. I've made no decisions. My needle is exactly right in the middle as far as yes or no," King said. "Part of it is to gauge the support that's out there and take a look at what it takes to put together a statewide campaign and the resources necessary to do that." King figured it would take "north of $15 million" to mount his campaign, a figure that he said doesn't scare him off.
If money won't stop him, King said he has to figure out if anything else will. Support, as he mentioned, will be key to measure. "If it doesn't come together...if I come to the conclusion that the hill's too steep, for example, or too high," King said. One thing he said that will not stop him is whether fellow Republican, 3rd District Congressman Tom Latham, decides to run. Latham already moved once for King. Latham left Ames for the 2012 election because redistricting following the 2010 census would have put him in the same newly drawn district as King. Latham moved to Clive, so he could take on Democratic Congressman Leonard Boswell, a man he would end up beating soundly for the job.
Republicans fear King and Latham would both want to run for the senate and have a long, expensive primary battle for the nomination, which could risk both of their congressional seats for the party, with no guarantees either man would take the senate seat. King hears those fears. King said he and Latham haven't had a chance to talk about what's ahead. He said he would get that chance when both men return to Washington next week. "The first thing is for Congressman Latham and I to have our own personal conversation."
King said the two men have a "good friendship and good relationship and make good decisions together." He doesn't expect to figure out his plans right away. King told me, 'It won't be days. It will be weeks."
In the end, King said he decision on whether to run will come down to timing and his feeling for the requirements ahead. He said, "This decision has to be right in the head, the heart and the gut. It needs to be a calling."
That calling for King means a call from above. Meanwhile, he will be doing plenty of calling on his own to see if enough Iowans think he is the answer to their next senator in Washington.