Posted at 06:27 PM ET, 12/30/2011

Iowa Rep. Steve King heaps praise on Romney, Santorum, has ‘deep’ concern about Paul on foreign policy

Like many GOP voters, Rep. Steve King (R), the influential Iowa conservative, says he hasn’t made up his mind on who he will support in Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.


Republican presidential candidate and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) confers with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) at the Capitol. King, a close Bachmann ally, has remained neutral thus far in the presidential race. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
But in a phone interview late Friday, King said he views Iowa as “a Romney, Paul and perhaps Santorum race” – and he made it clear that he thinks two of those options are far preferable to the other.

“I could give you the long, long story about all the good things Ron Paul brings to the table. ... But I have one deep and abiding concern -- and it is very, very significant -- and it is his foreign policy position,” King said of the libertarian-leaning Texas Republican who has rocketed to near the top of the GOP pack in recent weeks.

An NBC News-Marist poll released Friday morning mirrored other recent polls showing Paul in a dead heat with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) in Iowa, while former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a favorite among social conservatives, has leapfrogged to third due to an eleventh-hour surge of support.

Accompanying Paul’s rise in the polls has been an onslaught of criticism from top Republicans – including several in the presidential field – aimed at his isolationist foreign policy views.

That criticism is warranted, said King, who traced his concerns about Paul back to a Labor Day presidential forum hosted by conservative kingmaker Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in Columbia, S.C.

“I asked him the question there, ‘Where would you project power?’ And his answer was, he wouldn’t project power,” King said, adding that Paul told him that as commander-in-chief, he would plan to bring the U.S. armed forces back home. “One can only draw a conclusion that Ron Paul would take all of our military that are anywhere around the globe and bring them back to the United States.”

King said that he imagined how a President Paul would handle a scenario such as the Cuban missile crisis, the 1962 confrontation between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev over the construction of Soviet nuclear missile bases in Cuba.

“I think that it gets to be a situation where you think of Khrushchev and JFK in a standoff over missiles in Cuba,” King said. “Well, there wouldn’t be an objection from Ron Paul on that. ... He’s made that very clear. I don’t want to see America surrounded by its enemies, and I don’t want to see the rest of the world get taken over.”

Were King to endorse one of Paul’s rivals in the GOP race, his clout could help tip the balance. But King said Friday that if he does wade into the race, his opposition to Paul on foreign policy won’t be the main factor on his mind.

“I don’t think I would make a selection based on that,” King said of Paul’s foreign policy views. “I just think it’s important for Iowans to make a decision based on all the ramifications. ... I’m concerned that there can be a national movement that can grow and gain momentum, that believes that we should be an isolationist country that should withdraw from our global engagements.”

Of all the candidates in the presidential field, King is personally closest to Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican who won the Ames Straw Poll in August but has since plummeted in the polls.

King accompanied Bachmann to a campaign event at a cafe in his district Friday afternoon and rode the bus in and out of town with her.

He declined to say Friday night whether the two discussed the possibility that King might make an endorsement before Tuesday’s caucuses, saying only that the two “know each other really well” and that “this is another one of those circumstances where we both understand the stakes and we both understand each other’s circumstances.”

”She remains a close friend. I’ll tell you, it felt good to do an event with her,” King said.

King noted that both Santorum and Bachmann have visited all 99 counties in Iowa and that their campaigns have been busy signing up precinct captains to round up supporters on Tuesday.

“Those are all good things,” he said.

And while King expressed strong opposition to Paul on foreign policy, he had equally strong praise for Romney, who four years ago placed second behind former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) in the Iowa caucuses and had appeared to face tough odds the Hawkeye State just a few months ago amid lackluster support from social conservatives and evangelical leaders.

“I would support him with great enthusiasm if he’s the nominee, absolutely,” King said of Romney. “He is a far better candidate than he was four or five years ago.”

He praised Romney’s executive experience and said that while some Republicans in 2008 had concerns about his policy views, in the intervening years, Romney has campaigned hard and has “thought through his policy positions more deeply.”

“What I’ve seen instead of a change is a level of consistency,” he said. “There were questions about his consistency four years ago, and I want to be objective about that – it happens that people change their minds. ... I think he’s been consistent over the past four or five years.”

Asked if he believes he’ll make a decision on an endorsement before Tuesday, King – who will spend the next four days in Des Moines -- said that “hardly a waking hour” goes by that he doesn’t think about it, but that it’s still “hard to tell.”

“What I’ve said also is that I need to come to a conviction,” he said. “I have not arrived at that conviction. ... I hope it does [come]. If it does, I won’t hold back. The decision is very difficult for me, but it’s very difficult for a lot of Iowans.”

By  |  06:27 PM ET, 12/30/2011

 
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