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Peter King Takes Aim at Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; Tea Party Pushes Back

December 16, 2013 - 6:00pm

This week, U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., launched a new PAC to battle the tea party movement and advance his own presidential prospects in 2016.

King unveiled his American Leadership PAC on Monday and jabbed two of his potential primary opponents in 2016 in U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

I want to create a presence for those like myself who feel Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are out of touch with the American people, King said on Monday. This is highlighted by the government shutdown, which was one of the worst political disasters weve ever had.

Its basically to meet Republicans and find others who share my views, added King.

The Long Island congressman drew fire from Sal Russo, the chief strategist for the Tea Party Express PAC.

Republicans have tried Congressman Kings small-tent approach to winning elections as recently as the 2012 presidential election. It does not work, Russo insisted. Thats why Tea Party Express focuses on the economic issues that promote economic growth and opportunity, which also unite 70 percent of the electorate. Unfortunately, Congressman King is out of touch with the majority of Americans who want to reduce the size, cost and intrusiveness of the federal government.

Bashing King as a country club establishment-type, Russo bashed him for his policies.

King has consistently, yet foolishly, pointed the finger at conservatives for the gridlock in D.C., Russo said. In reality, it has been the politics as usual that has kept America swallowed in deficits and debt that the American people want addressed. The Sandy relief legislative is a perfect example of the wrong-headed approach by Congressman King. Instead of attacking Democrats and some Republicans for stuffing the bill with pork spending that was not even going to the victims, he attacked conservative Republicans for objecting to wasteful and deceptive spending. Its that kind of backdoor politics that Americans hate.

Russo also defended the senators King took aim at.

Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who Congressman King likes to criticize, are exactly the kind of conservative leaders we need in the party, Russo said. Senator Paul has embraced Reagans big-tent approach and is sharing his message of fiscal conservatism and economic freedom with communities that the Peter Kings of the world ignore. King should follow Senator Pauls lead and work on growing the party not shrinking it.

King, on the other hand, defends his background and appeal for blue collar conservatives instead of the country club set. Announcing he was running for president in September, King is working New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary, this week, attending events in Concord including a Republican fundraiser on Monday night.

While no sitting member of the U.S. House has been elected president since James Garfield won the 1880 presidential election, King has a higher profile than most congressmen. It comes from his chairing the House Committee on Homeland Security. Representing parts of Long Island and sitting on the House Financial Services Committee, he has been a strong fundraiser at the congressional level, though that might not translate to having enough for a presidential race.

The son of a police officer, King has been in New York politics for the better part of 35 years. After serving in the New York National Guard and graduating from law school, he worked in the Nassau County district attorneys office before running for town council and eventually moving up to county comptroller. King had a rare political defeat in 1986 when he was the GOPs candidate for state attorney general. King lost out to Bob Abrams, one of several New York Democrats led by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo who generally did well against Republicans that year.

Despite 1992 not being a good year for Republicans across the nation, King picked up an open congressional seat that had been held by a Democratic congressman in that election cycle. Since then, he has generally kept his seat by overwhelming margins. During his two decades in Congress, King has become a leading Republican on national security but he has often drawn heavy fire from civil libertarians for his stances.

King should be able to avoid a trap that has plagued New York Republicans who have eyed the White House in recent decades. Unlike fellow Empire State Republicans Nelson Rockefeller and Rudy Giuliani, King is not a social liberal. With a solidly pro-life record, King should pass muster with conservatives on most social issues.

King will be 72 in 2016, almost as old as Bob Dole was when he was the Republican nominee back in 1996. To his credit, King shows very little signs of slowing down. Kings brash, often pugnacious style and caustic tongue often get him in trouble, but these could be assets as he looks to win over conservative voters in Iowa and South Carolina.

While he has generally been a strong fundraiser, King will have to play at a much larger level in a presidential bid and his support could be undermined by other New Yorkers in the mix. King might not be the only New York Republican running in 2016. Former Gov. George Pataki looked at making presidential bids in 2000 and 2012, but he stayed out of the fray both times. King could also face indirect competition on the Democratic side. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are all possible candidates for the Democratic nomination and would be relying heavily on money from the Empire State.

King has shown some hesitation in running for higher office before. While there was speculation that he could seek the open U.S. Senate seat in 2000, he generally remained on the sidelines as Clinton, Giuliani and Rick Lazio took center stage in that contest. But he also flirted with running for the Senate throughout the next decade in the 2004, 2006 and 2010 election cycles. Each time out, he stayed out of the contest.

Reach Kevin Derby at or follow him on Twitter at @KevinDerbySSN.

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