POLITICS
02/06/2013 02:56 pm ET

Karl Rove, Steve King Set To Fight Bitter Battle In Iowa

As you may have heard, establishment conservative kingpin Karl Rove has launched his latest effort in electoral king-making: the Conservative Victory Project. But this is no mere project for conservative victories. As The New York Times described it, Rove's intentions are "to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles."

In short, Rove wants to avoid future, Todd Akin fiasco-type incidents -- or at least that's one way of looking at it. Of course, the more popular interpretation of Rove's new mission is that he's taking on the Tea Party, whose members might recall the zero times their movement was mentioned at the Republican National Convention during prime time.

The launch of Rove's new thingy this week coincided with the announcement that longtime incumbent Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) would not seek reelection. That set off fresh speculation that Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King might go questing for higher office. From there, King ended up drawn into Rove's crosshairs as the type of Republican that the Conservative Victory Party might try to shoot down. As the Times reported:

Representative Steve King, a six-term Iowa Republican, could be among the earliest targets of the Conservative Victory Project. He said he had not decided whether he would run for the Senate, but the leaders of the project in Washington are not waiting to try to steer him away from the race.

The group’s plans, which were outlined for the first time last week in an interview with Mr. Law, call for hard-edge campaign tactics, including television advertising, against candidates whom party leaders see as unelectable and a drag on the efforts to win the Senate. Mr. Law cited Iowa as an example and said Republicans could no longer be squeamish about intervening in primary fights.

“We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem,” Mr. Law said. “This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he’s said are going to be hung around his neck.”

Some of those "things" that are said to be heading in a neck-ward direction include King's very Todd Akin-esque take on the female reproductive system, inflammatory slags at immigrants, and ... well, it's a vast library of cray-cray, actually.

But it's easy to see why Rove's group might horn in on the Iowa Senate race: It's shaping up to be one of those races in which the likely winner of the Republican primary doesn't poll as well against Democrats as his Republican opponents do.

In this case, we have a Public Policy Polling survey that indicates that King starts in the strongest position of any of the likely GOP entrants -- he leads likely runner-up Tom Latham by a 41 to 22 percent margin. But once you start matching those likely GOP contenders against their Democratic counterparts, it's Latham who emerges as the most viable candidate. And the rub? Well, according to PPP, Latham's competitiveness is based "partly" on the fact that he "attracts more moderate voters."

Even so, PPP found that Latham trails the top Democratic contender, Bruce Braley, by three points. (That compares to the 7- to 10-point deficit King faces in the same matchup.) Nevertheless, it's that competitive edge that could draw Rove's group into the race, the idea being that their tall dollars could lift the profile of a primary competitor like Latham and help him overcome King's popularity.

Still, as everyone knows from covering Iowa's role in the presidential primary process, the state is rich in grassroots connections and Steve King is an essential part of that network. When Republican presidential aspirants want to win in Iowa, King is the king-maker, and you might want to take a hunting trip with him if you want to earn his endorsement. Moreover, King's conservative bona fides are well established. In fact, in this emerging dust-up between King and Rove, it's Rove who's getting called out by those who find his lack of faith disturbing.

Here's CNSNews' editor-in-chief Terence Jeffrey, with a fresh editorial Wednesday, making the case that "Karl Rove Is Not A Conservative" and assailing him for making the concept of "big government" kosher in establishment Republican circles. And over at Politico, conservative talk-radio host Steve Deace rails against the Rovementum in similar fashion. Deace praises the Virginia GOP's decision to decide their statewide nominees at a party convention instead of in an open primary (where Rove's group would have greater leeway to meddle), and, as an Iowan, he defends Steve King specifically:

Virginia has the right idea. For example, why should Rove and his GOP elites be allowed to pick the U.S. Senate nominee for my home state of Iowa? Congressman Steve King has served nearly every conservative cause that matters with distinction. If the conservative grassroots wants King as their nominee in next year’s election, following Virginia’s lead would almost assure that would happen. After all, who should determine who represents our values? Those in the grassroots that actually fight for them, even when it’s not popular, or Rove and his cynical Beltway bunch that really don’t have too many core worldview differences from Democrats?

Besides, I love hoisting foes with their own petard. We originally went to a primary system to avoid the smoke-filled rooms of conventions, so it would be deliciously ironic to revert back to conventions to take Boss Tweed-wannabes like Rove and the big money out of the process and restore virtue and principal.

Deace is, perhaps, being too generous with the comparison to William "Boss" Tweed, because at least Tweed was single-minded in his machinations. This Rove group, by comparison, is a bit all over the shop. As Jed Lewison pointed out Tuesday, mere days after King was identified as "the poster child of the kind of candidate they [CVP] want to stop," Rove's partner in this new endeavor, Steven Law, was doing something of a walk-back on MSNBC with Chuck Todd:

CHUCK TODD: You look at Steve King, you think maybe he's not electable statewide? And yet he did beat a Christie Vilsack, and Democrats were following him around with video cameras, hoping to catch him in a Todd Akin moment, and they never did.

STEVEN LAW: Sure. And we put $400,000 into that race, actually, in support of him this last go around. But I think the question that I was raising in the New York Times piece was simply that candidate vetting, what people say, what they have done, what they might do in the future has got to be an ingredient in deciding who you're going to support down the road.

So last time out, Steve King and all the crazy things he said were worth $400,000, and he won, but now all of that is untenable because somebody finally did some "candidate vetting." I don't discount the potential for Rove's group to play a significant role in winning races, but Tammany Hall this is not.

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