Four years ago, Iowa Congressman Steve King didn’t make his mark on the Iowa Caucuses until the contest was just 17 days away. His endorsement moved the needle for his candidate of choice, Fred Thompson, but it was too little, too late. Thompson barely held off John McCain and finished in third place.
Last weekend at his Conservative Principles Conference, Congressman King impacted the upcoming presidential caucus in a major way. King firmly put his fingerprint on the Iowa political landscape by doing what no other Iowa politician could do – gather some of the greatest conservatives minds in the county as well as a handful of potential 2012 candidates in Iowa to discus conservative principles, the problems facing America, and a number of free market solutions.
While the potential 2012 candidates and the other speakers at the event were all remarkable, it was the audience who may have been the even more impressive part of the conference. From Saturday morning to Saturday night, the audience of 500 listened, asked questions, and networked. It’s hard to hold a crowd at a political dinner for two hours, but somehow King was able to keep his audience engaged for nearly twelve hours.
King’s event was different than the typical Iowa presidential cattle call where multiple candidates are invited to speak. While the presidential candidates took to the stage at different parts of the day, the event also featured U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, Rep. former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, and conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly.
The audience also heard from nationalized healthcare critic Betsy McCaughey, David Bossie of Citizens United, Connie Mackey of the Family Research Council, Brian Brown with the National Organization of Marriage, Emmett McGroaty of the American Principles Project, Congressman Thaddeus McCotter and representatives from Fair Tax and Strong America Now.
Unlike other cattle calls, King drove a message with his event. The most talked about topic at the conference was Obamacare. It was abundantly clear that King is looking for the potential presidential candidates to join him in his call to defund Obamacare, even if it means shutting down the government. The event also discussed fiscal policies, illegal immigration, family values, and foreign policy.
It’s not a surprise that King would use the spotlight to drive the issues about which he’s most passionate, but other groups that have held events for potential 2012 candidates have failed to do so. For example, the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition and the FAMiLY Leader have provided candidates with a forum to discuss social issues, but these groups have not used the media attention that these events have provided to effectively push their agendas.
The combination of King, who holds enormous sway with conservatives in Iowa and also holds the conservative line in the House, and DeMint, who plays a similar role in the US Senate and his home state of South Carolina, provided a unique situation where two of the three first contests in the nomination process are now linked.
DeMint, who closed the event when he spoke at the banquet Saturday night, delivered a serious speech that was void of catchy phrases that play to the audience. The seriousness of his speech was apparent from the beginning, “The situation is urgent. That’s why you sat here all day. 2012 might be our last chance, and we have to get it right,” DeMint warned.
While his speech included a number of conservative solutions to the problems that face the nation, it was his words about the candidates who are considering a presidential run that stuck out the most.
He praised Iowa’s role as the leadoff contest for the Republican presidential nomination, but hopes that “Iowa chooses the right principles, not just the right candidate.” He advised the crowd of likely caucus goers that, “It’s not just about the person who gives the best speech, but it should be about the candidate who promotes the right principles.”
DeMint also backed up King’s tough talk about defunding Obamacare when he said, “If you want to know which presidential candidate is on your side, see what they do with the debates in Congress. Are they taking a bold stand to challenge Republicans to keep their promises from the election, or are they standing on the sideline?”
DeMint provided the prefect ending to King’s conference. While it is sometimes easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of certain candidates and one’s ability to deliver a speech, what really matters in terms of the county is what these candidates plan to do once in office.
King’s event did a great job of discussing full spectrum conservatism as well as elevating his profile in the caucus process. If this even is any indication of the role that King is going to play in the 2012 caucuses, he will have a major impact not only on the outcome, but also the issues that are discussed.
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