Rep. Peter King of New York may be the first Republican out of the gate in a 2016 race for the White House, but as a member of Congress he'll have the tallest hurdles to clear in a field that will be crowded with better-known governors and U.S. senators, several national pollsters told Newsmax.
The 11-term congressman from suburban Long Island, N.Y., got the ball rolling on a campaign last week when he told Newsmax in an exclusive interview
that he’s considering a White House run in order to make sure that the party maintains a strong emphasis on national security.
"He’s a formidable and forceful voice on national security," said Doug Schoen, a pollster and campaign strategist who consulted on President Clinton’s 1996 re-election bid said. "But there’s not much of a basis for a member of the House of Representatives from a blue state to make a successful run for president."
"The issue of name recognition, visibility, and fundraising are paramount," Schoen said of a presidential candidacy, noting that it’s been more than a century since James Garfield was the last congressman elected president in 1880.
"We’re looking at more than 100 years since a member of the House was elected president. And the forces are far more difficult now," Schoen said. "He’s very much a long shot, but a credible long shot."
Veteran pollster John Zogby, who has surveyed voters since 1984, said King brings a mix of positives and negatives to a national campaign.
"On the one hand, he has high visibility within the party. But he’s also one of a handful of Republicans that gets lots of face time on TV, most notably for the war on terror. He has stood out on that issue. He has staked out an image as a tough guy on terror and he looks tough, too," said Zogby.
"Let’s flip to the negative: He’s from New York. And he’s not just from New York, he’s from New Yawk," said Zogby. "That doesn’t really play well in Kansas."
King, a former chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has become one of the Capitol’s leading voices on terrorism and national security. He’s regularly sought out for TV interviews and has drawn fire from critics for holding hearings on the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism within the U.S.
But the war on terror alone is not enough to propel a candidate to a GOP nomination, said Schoen. "National security is a very important issue and voters take it seriously, but unless there is a security crisis voters are more concerned with the economy and jobs."
Any run for the presidency has to go through the make-it-or-break-it early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Iowa and South Carolina, where evangelical Christians form a large block of the GOP voters will be a hard sell for a moderate from the Northeast.
"These are not states for Peter King," Schoen said.
Zogby, however, said that all King has to do is stay in play in Iowa and South Carolina, where a crowded field of social conservative will split that segment of the party.
As for New Hampshire, Zogby said King could sneak out a crucial early state primary victory.
"A guy like Pete King just has to survive Iowa," said Zogby, explaining that would mean finishing among the top three in a primary. "New Hampshire would be friendly to Pete King. He’s a neighbor."
And following the Boston terror bombings, Zogby said New Hampshire voters are likely more concerned about the threat of terrorism and would be open to a candidate who is strong on national security.
King himself said he’s got a chance of winning in the early primary states, and noted Monday that he received three invitations to appear in New Hampshire within two days of reports that he was considering a presidential campaign.
"I found it encouraging," King said of the invites that will take him to the Granite State in August and September. King said he was invited to meet with firefighters from New Hampshire to thank them for helping New York during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
A second event in September will be more political, speaking to a Republican county organization.
King is a moderate among today’s Republicans. "I describe myself as being from the Ronald Reagan/Jack Kemp wing of the Republican Party."
His voting record in Congress has been staunchly against abortion rights, earning him a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, which will play well among social conservatives in the party.
But his support for universal background checks as part of failed efforts to pass gun control laws has helped push him to a D-rating from the National Rifle Association, even though he cited law enforcement backing for the measure intended to restrict the illegal sale of guns that can end up in the hands of criminals.
King said he agrees that historically there have been steeper hurdles facing a member of Congress running for the White House, as opposed to more recognizable senators and governors.
"All of that is true as far as House candidates," King said of the difficulty in building national name recognition that can translate into votes far from home. "But the times have changed with the Internet and cable TV. With a lot of hard work, that can be overcome."
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