August 5, 2013

Presidential hopeful says he'd focus on national defense

Longtime Congressman Peter King, R-N.Y., says Republicans 'have to go back to being the party of national defense.'

The Associated Press

WOLFEBORO, N.H. – New York Rep. Peter King acknowledges he'd have a double motive as a presidential candidate — winning the White House and stopping what he calls a dangerous shift in the GOP toward an isolationist foreign policy, perhaps the more achievable of the two objectives.

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U.S. Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y. speaks at an outdoor barbecue at the home of Don Rowan, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013 in Wakefield, N.H. King is considering running for president in 2016.(AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Largely unknown to most Americans, King has used his post as chairman of the House Homeland Security counterterrorism and intelligence subcommittee to become one of the Obama administration's chief critics on international affairs. And he promises that his passion for a strong national defense would dominate his campaign, which would make King simply the latest politician to push a pet issue as a centerpiece of a presidential bid.

"We have to go back to being the party of national defense," the 11-term congressman said Monday while touring this town on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. It was King's first visit to the first-in-the-nation-primary state since early this summer, when he first dangled the prospect of running for president.

Polls suggest that King would begin a presidential race with a huge vulnerability_he is largely unknown to the majority of Americans. Nevertheless, history suggests that King, like other single-issue candidates in the past, could play a significant role in shaping the presidential contest.

A long line of politicians have used a presidential campaign to help shift their party's dominant philosophy on issues from immigration to federal deficits, even while falling fall short of winning their party's nomination.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum became a top-tier contender in the 2012 race with a campaign partly designed to emphasize social conservative values. At the same time, then-Rep. Ron Paul of Texas generated a passionate following and helped resurrect the libertarian movement in a 2012 presidential bid focused largely on dismantling the federal government.

"True single-issue candidates don't typically succeed at the ballot box, but they can provide an invaluable service in raising awareness about substantive issues that get buried in the daily grind of a campaign," said New Hampshire Republican strategist Jim Merrill, who led Mitt Romney's efforts in this state.

Merrill, who described King as "the classic definition of a primary long-shot," cited businessman Steve Forbes, whose 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns centered on his support for a flat income tax that "forced other candidates to wade into the deep end of the policy pool on federal tax reform, an issue that might have otherwise gotten the cursory sound bite treatment."

Independent candidate Ross Perot captured nearly 19 percent of the national popular vote in 1992 in a presidential campaign focused almost exclusively on reducing the national deficit. And former Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo's 2008 campaign centered on fighting illegal immigration — an issue that still consumes Republican activists.

But King, 69, says he's not willing to term himself as a single-issue candidate.

"I don't want it to sound like I'm looking for a consolation prize," he said, noting that should he run he'd be on "a dual track" to win and balance the increasingly vocal libertarian wing of the GOP — led by possible presidential contenders like Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas — who support significant reductions in U.S. foreign aid and military involvement abroad.

"We are the No. 1 target in the world of Islamic terrorists," he told roughly 50 New Hampshire supporters — many of them with New York roots — gathered at a backyard barbecue. "I would love if we never had to send one solider overseas, or if we never had to be involved in any country in the world. But we live in a dangerous world and we don't have that luxury."

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