WAKEFIELD, N.H. -- Rep. Peter King flew up to this woodsy hamlet Sunday to deliver his first stump speech as a long-shot potential presidential candidate, and he stuck to what he knows best: national security and counterterrorism.
At a private barbecue of chicken and hot dogs in the backyard of a retired Long Island fire chief and friend, King found himself making his first move toward the White House in what he admits is a hard road on a day when the United States was on its highest alert for a terrorist attack in years.
Wearing a yellow polo shirt and dark slacks, King (R-Seaford) spoke without a prepared speech to about 40 local Republican activists, friends and family, who treated him cordially, but also said they still have a lot to learn about him.
He began his short speech by decrying how the Obama administration is leading the country in the wrong direction domestically, with Obamacare and "the incredible amount of debt and deficits."
He then pivoted into the issue that led him here, the battle against the libertarian trend in the Republican Party, as espoused by another would-be presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
"But also, within the Republican Party, we have to go back to being the party of national defense -- starting with Eisenhower and right through Reagan and Bush, we have been the party of national defense," King said.
"If we withdraw from the world, if we become isolationists, we just create a vacuum and that's going to be filled," he said, by the kind of terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and the recent Boston Marathon bombing.
He then made his pitch.
"I believe strongly that, as we go forward to 2016, we have to have a candidate who believes in strong national defense, who realizes the threat of Islamic terrorism, who realizes how important homeland security is, and also is willing to be politically incorrect," King said.
It was the first obligatory trip that King has made to the early primary state of New Hampshire, but not his last.
He has another official New Hampshire State and Strafford County Republican Party bar-becue scheduled for Sept. 15.
And Joe Fleck, the Carroll County GOP chairman, announced Sunday that King would be the keynote speaker at its official barbecue in the first week of September.
King fielded a few questions, some of which touched on the split in the GOP on national security. Bob Bird, a retired Washington lobbyist, asked about King's battle with Paul. King responded by criticizing Paul for his 13-hour filibuster about U.S. government drone strikes on Americans on U.S. soil -- saying it was not the most important issue.
Bird said later he thought King's answer was good. "I think he's going to do well in New Hampshire, even with his New York accent," Bird said jokingly.
Pat Fleck, a Republican activist and the wife of Joe Fleck, asked whether the Obama administration's closing of U.S. embassies in the Middle East and Africa sent the wrong signal about U.S. strength.
King defended the action, saying it was necessary.
Afterward, Pat Fleck said King needed to talk more about his background, explaining who he is and what he has done. She said she was surprised to learn he was a lawyer.
Joe Fleck conceded King faces a lot of competition in New Hampshire, despite his early start. Already Paul has visited, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) will headline a state GOP fundraiser Aug. 23. State Rep. Harry Murrow, who represents the area, said he judges presidential hopefuls on national defense, the Second Amendment and opposition to the health care law.
Asked what he knows about King, Murrow said, "Not an awful lot."