Iowa Rep. Steve King, one of the GOP's most outspoken critics of immigration reform, will screen Republican presidential candidates competing in his state's caucuses regarding their policy about illegal immigrants, Politico reported.
The lawmaker represents a staunchly conservative northwestern Iowa congressional district whose voters are active caucus-goers.
Republican presidential candidates will have to decide how far to go in paying their respects to the lawmaker. Pushing away King could damage their prospects in the caucuses. Embracing him could alienate Hispanic voters who establishment Republicans argue could be crucial to winning in November, according to Politico.
An added opportunity to exert his clout would be if the pre-caucus Ames Straw Poll
is held in his congressional district this election cycle, despite talk of scrapping it.
Some 10 presidential hopefuls have already been prescreened by King on their immigration policies.
"I have this wonderful, wonderful privilege to have this tremendous access to the likely presidential candidates," King said, adding that if he doesn't have a "deep conviction" about any particular candidate, he won't endorse anyone.
"It's one thing to go to caucus and vote for somebody and support them, and it's another to make a recommendation to a lot of people," King told Politico.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has described himself as a King supporter. King says Christie needs to think more deeply on immigration.
He describes Jeb Bush as moving too far from conservatives.
He wants Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to improve their positions on immigration.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have all agreed to take part in the Iowa Freedom Summit, which King is co-hosting with Citizens United.
King makes frequent media appearances, where his opposition to illegal immigration has generated headlines. He told Newsmax TV
that many illegal immigrants have served as drug mules with "calves the size of cantaloupes" from carrying marijuana across the desert into the country.
Immigration is important to his constituents and carries special weight in Iowa, says King.
"The Iowa caucus-goers are the more conservative, so there's not a way, I don't think, for presidential candidates to go through this process and avoid the immigration issue. It'll be brought to the front by the activists," Politico reported.
Other Iowa politicians who will be competing with King to influence caucus participants are Gov. Terry Branstad and incoming Sen. Joni Ernst, along with Religious Right activist Bob Vander Plaats, according to Politico.
The Iowa caucuses are tentatively set for Feb. 1, 2016, The Washington Post
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