WASHINGTON - Long Island's Rep. Peter King has flirted a few times before with running for higher office, including the presidency, but this time he says he's serious.
King, the 11-term Republican from Seaford, made a splash on July 18 when he said he's considering a long-shot run for president in 2016 to save his party from the isolationist and libertarian views of another possible candidate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
"I don't see anyone else countering that and speaking up for the Eisenhower foreign policy, the Reagan foreign policy," said King, the former Homeland Security Committee chairman, as he declared he's open to a presidential campaign.
At age 69, with a reputation as a blunt-spoken national security hawk who appeals to Reagan Democrats, King has jumped at the chance to step up to the national stage ahead of the 2016 elections.
'We'll see where it goes'
To show he's serious about testing the waters this time out, King said he's talking to former aides to 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has set up visits to the early primary state of New Hampshire.
But he concedes he has no big money behind him or a national organization, and analysts say he faces a long road to the White House. "In the end," he said, "we'll see where it goes."Just two years ago, King offered himself up for the presidency, and sent out fundraising emails, after Nassau County Republican leader Joe Mondello told a cheering party gathering he was urging King to run.
Four months later, asked if he had made his decision not to run in 2012 official, King said, "No one has asked me for a while."
Over the years King has floated his name for New York governor and the U.S. Senate, and raised funds off of it.
Last week, King said the only time he was really ready to run was against Caroline Kennedy if she were named to replace Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2009. She wasn't and he dropped out.
The idea for the current run, King said, crystallized at a June 22 dinner with friends, including Vito Fossella, the former Staten Island congressman, and Chris Ruddy, editor of the conservative website Newsmax.
King said he didn't know Ruddy was coming to dinner.
King said Fossella encouraged him to seek the White House and Ruddy said he wanted to do a story on it. Ruddy later told Time that King expressed interest in a run but didn't want to go on the record.
On July 17 the Newsmax story appeared saying King should run as the GOP national security candidate for president, quoting former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
King said he was seriously considering doing just that, and sent out fundraising appeals.
Mixed reaction to run
Since then King's testing of the waters has drawn a mixed response: support from friends, cautious curiosity by analysts, and incredulity by others.
"Why not Peter King? There is nobody who's got this thing locked up," said Sayville strategist Michael Dawidziak, who called King "Reaganesque."
Marist Poll director Lee Miringoff said there are more questions than answers about a moderate running in a party that's "very conservative."
Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said "No one from the House has been elected since 1880 and there's a reason for that."
He said it's hard for a congressman to establish national fundraising and organization.
House reaction ranged from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asking "Was he serious?" to Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) saying, "I didn't know he was running for president."
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) said, "Peter is a good friend of mine. I'm sure he's putting up a trial balloon for a reason."
Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), whose bid to curb the government collection of Americans' phone records was opposed by King and fell just short of passage in the House last week, said King is on the wrong side of the political tide among young Republicans.
Asked what he thought of King's presidential chances, Amash said, "I think he'll lose."
King brushed aside obstacles as surmountable. To doubters, he said, "If not me, who? Let's see who else can step up and who can articulate it as well and have a proven record on it and who can handle himself on television and in debates."
A known entity
King says he's known because of his frequent appearances on cable TV news shows. Yet he's also known for being controversial, as when he held hearings to grill American Muslims on what they're doing about terrorism. But staying in the spotlight could prove difficult in a potential field of much better known Republicans.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, late last week seized headlines after he, too, attacked Paul, calling his approach to homeland security, such as his criticism of counter-terrorist surveillance programs, "a very dangerous thought."
Aides to Paul, who declined to comment on King's criticism, responded with an attack on Christie -- a sign they took his challenge more seriously.
And the conservative e-magazine Commentary posted an op-ed titled: "Is Christie the Foreign Policy Candidate?"