The endorsement of Ted Cruz's presidential candidacy by Rep. Steve King (Iowa) is likely to strengthen the Republican senator's case to Iowa voters ahead of that state's first-in-the-nation vote, on Feb. 1.
"I'm all the way in supporting Ted Cruz for president," said King, who represents Republican-rich western Iowa in Congress. "Ted Cruz understands that we have to secure our border and restore the rule of law."
First, no, King's endorsement wasn't a stunning development if you follow these things closely. King's son, Jeff, is helping to run a super PAC supporting Cruz. And King's stalwart position on immigration jibes closely with Cruz's views on "amnesty."
And, double no, an endorsement from a member of Congress — up to and including King — does not make a candidacy, particularly in this day and age when Republicans hate Washington and are siding with outsiders such as Ben Carson and Donald Trump. King, you might remember, endorsed former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.) in the waning weeks of the 2008 Iowa caucuses only to watch his candidate finish a distant third. In 2012, King flirted with lots of the GOP candidates but didn't ultimately wade in.
But, those caveats aside, there is plenty of reason to believe that King for Cruz matters in this race.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) November 16, 2015
Remember first that Cruz has been heavily targeting Iowa — and its decisive social conservative vote — for months. Cruz has been working the state hard — he spent three full days in Iowa in October — and profile-wise is a natural fit for a place that has elevated social conservative candidates such as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in the past two contested caucuses.
Cruz is also running well in Iowa — although he trails Carson and Trump, and stands tied with Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) in Iowa polling. And, King getting in now — rather than later this year or early next year — means that Cruz gets a bump before the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year's troika, when voters stop paying much attention to politics.
Where King helps is organizationally — he is the face of the ideological right in Iowa and a major player in the western part of the state where lots and lots of Republicans live. "He has a very faithful grassroots following," longtime Iowa conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats told the National Review in late October. “And these are the people that show up on caucus night. They take politics, these elections, very seriously, and so they respect Steve King’s voice a lot."
King also adds symbolic heft. He is a true-blue conservative standing up and saying that Cruz is the best conservative in the race. That matters in a field this crowded and this unpredictable.
For example, Trump remains, ostensibly, the front-runner in Iowa. But his 95-minute rant in the state late last week, which included a line asking Iowans whether they were stupid, suggests a level of unpredictability that could change his support — and that of the candidates around him.
And Carson — who, like Cruz, appeals to social conservatives in Iowa — remains a less-than-proven commodity on the stump — particularly when it comes to foreign policy, a topic sure to gain more traction with voters in the wake of the Paris attacks.
Enter Cruz. Well financed — thanks to his own fundraising and his super PACs. Well positioned ideologically for the state. And now with the support of King, a trusted conservative verifier with a real organization in Iowa.
The King endorsement will raise expectations for Cruz in Iowa. It should. He's now very well positioned to win the state — or come very close — next February.