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Washington Post - Rep. Peter King Interview (Part 2)

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Yesterday, I posted some excerpts from my interview on Tuesday with Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).

In the rest of our wide-ranging interview, King had plenty to say about the political scene -- past, present and future. As our conversation continued, he disclosed that he seriously thought about a 2010 run for Senate -- and had Caroline Kennedy been the Democrat appointed he "definitely would have run."

He noted that there are 2 1/2 to 3 million more Democrats than Republicans in New York, so with Kirsten Gillibrand in the race, he would have had to "spend every minute of 2009" raising money. With Kennedy in the race, the media attention and money flowing in would have been enormous and, he calculates, "I would have been the beneficiary of some of that." He said he would have relished running against Kennedy as a "working class, Irish guy." As the year unfolded, however, he said he became more certain that the Republicans would take the House and that he could take over as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, which has been his "real focus." He confessed, "Yeah, I had some second thoughts after election night."

And what about a Senate run in 2012, when Gillibrand must stand for re-election again? He smiled. "I will keep my options open," he said.

Looking at the 2010 midterms, he considers House Republicans' success in New York to be part of the national landscape. "The national scene sure set the scene," he said. "But we needed to have good candidates. And many of those districts were districts we never should have lost in the first place." He told me: "Once the voters said Republicans offered a credible alternative," Republicans were able to make big gains. But, he said, "we should have gotten" three more seats that were retained by Democrats Bill Owens, Carolyn McCarthy and Tim Bishop (whose victory became official yesterday when his opponent conceded).

King was in Congress when the Republicans won the House majority in 1994 and Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House. The difference between Gingrich and John Boehner (R-Ohio), he said, couldn't be greater. He was blunt: "You do need a speaker who is very sober minded. Boehner will do a much better job than Gingrich." He continued, "John is the perfect person for the job. The only time he becomes the center of attention is when the White House makes him the center of attention." King does not recall the Gingrich years fondly. "The speaker can't take on issue X for two weeks and then go on Meet the Press or Fox and talk about issue Y." He said he "doesn't know how many times" Gingrich's controversial statement pulled the Republicans off track. He recalls that Gingrich used to make speeches ragging on liberal New York. King shook his head: "When you're in leadership, you are speaking to the whole country." He said he is confident that Boehner, by contrast, understands that "the people elected us and at any time they can turn on us."

I then invited him to name his dream presidential candidates for 2012. Without missing a beat, he said: "Chris Christie and General Petraeus." As for the New Jersey governor, King argued, "Chris is solid on conservative principles and come across as a regular guy. He's the guy who you'd meet in the local bar or at a softball game." He recalled that when Christie came to talk to the House Republicans, he got a sustained standing ovation. King made the case that those Democrats who "agree with us 78 percent" of the time would be turned off by an overtly partisan candidate, but that a "regular guy" like Christie can capture key swing voters. But hasn't Christie said he'd have to commit suicide to convince the press corps he isn't running? King laughed. "I think he's totally closed the door, but he's going to Iowa because he hasn't totally closed the door." He said that if Christie continues to impress Republicans "lightning could strike" and Christie could run. As for Petraeus,

King confessed he doesn't know for certain what the generals' views are on a variety of matters, but he said that we need leadership on national security, terrorism and defense policy.

Recently, Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard floated a ticket of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and General Ray Odierno. King was enthusiastic when I mentioned it: "Paul is a serious guy. But you see him with his kids, and he's got a good sense of humor. He is very knowledgeable about budget matters without sounding like a green eye-shade guy." As for Odierno, King said he met him in Iraq. "He's an imposing guy," King said. "He looks like he's coming across the room to beat the hell out of someone." He added, "And he's paid the price," mentioning that Odierno's son lost an arm in battle.

King, as lively and candid a figure as one can find in the era of blow-dried politicians and boring talking points, will be a key figure in the new Congress. Judging from my interview with him, he certainly doesn't appear inclined to trim his sails or mince words.

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