With the Iowa presidential caucuses now less than two months away, the courting campaign has intensified and pressure is mounting for the 2008 hopefuls to score whatever endorsements they can from the Hawkeye State Congressional delegation.
So far, neither the state’s Senators nor its five House Members have picked a preferred candidate, and several have indicated their support is up for grabs. Two have said they will not endorse.
Rep. Steve King (R) said his first priority was in seeing Iowa keep its first-in-the-nation voting status. But with the Jan. 3 date now set, he has turned to deliberating over whether to publicly endorse a candidate before the caucuses.
King was scheduled to meet with former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) on Friday. He said he already has met privately with most of the Republican contenders, the exception being former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He said he has had quasi-private meetings with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“I’m thinking on it,” King said Thursday.
He said the easy way out would be not to publicly endorse anyone, but he noted that eventually he will have to pick a candidate.
“I’m going to have to choose a candidate at caucus,” he said. “The question is, should I keep that a secret?”
King said that issues would be the No. 1 factor in making his decision, should he choose to endorse, but he said momentum would also play an important role.
King — one of the leading anti-illegal immigration voices on Capitol Hill — is perhaps closest politically to Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who finished fifth in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll in August. Tancredo is continuing his long-shot presidential campaign after announcing last week that he will not run for re-election next year.
King said that of the four candidates who finished ahead of Tancredo in the straw poll, he was not yet comfortable with any on the immigration issue. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won a landslide victory in Ames, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee finishing second.
“None of them have captured my heart,” King said of the leading GOP candidates.
Still, King feels much better about the field now — after watching the candidates on the stump improve and hone their messages — than he did at the start of the race.
“We have a lot of good candidates,” he said. “Five or six months ago I didn’t think that.”
King had kind words for both Giuliani and Huckabee.
“I think Rudy Giuliani would make a great leader,” he said. However, he later expressed concern that nominating the most socially liberal candidate in the field could mean “fundamental planks of the Republican Party platform are endangered of being sawed off.”
King said Huckabee is a good communicator and has the best sense of humor in the field.
“People like him,” he said.
Rep. Tom Latham, the only other Republican in the Hawkeye State delegation, said he will not endorse prior to the caucuses. He has not endorsed in the past.
Iowa’s three Democratic House Members are still debating whether to make an official endorsement or to stay out of the fray.
Freshman Rep. Bruce Braley said his first priority has been making sure his constituents get an audience with the contenders so they can make the best possible informed decision.
Braley has events scheduled soon with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
“After these events are done, I’m going to sit down and reflect on it,” Braley said, adding he doesn’t expect to decide on whether to endorse before Thanksgiving.
Spokeswomen for Iowa Democratic Reps. Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell also said their bosses have left the endorsement option open and will decide in the coming weeks if they will endorse and who it will be.
On the Senate side, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has said he will not make an endorsement prior to the caucuses. Harkin faces his own re-election race in 2008, which is not expected to be difficult, and making an endorsement this time would require him to choose among several of his Senate colleagues and friends.
Harkin was burned by his late endorsement of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) in 2004 just prior to the Iowa caucuses and was on stage when Dean made his infamous “scream” speech. The Iowa Senator has said that experience did not effect his decision not to endorse a candidate in 2008.
Meanwhile, Republicans have been openly courting Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) support.
In the middle of last month, Giuliani and Romney met separately with Grassley on the same day. He has not indicated whether he will make a formal endorsement.