GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (AP) — Rep. Peter King, whose national profile has climbed as head of the U.S. House Homeland Security panel, is leaving the door open for a possible presidential bid.
The New York congressman, responding to a powerful hometown Republican's suggestion that he run for president, said he was taking a wait-and-see approach.
"Let's see what happens," King told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. "This is something out of the blue. It is a great honor, but right now I am focused on getting re-elected to the House next year."
Joseph Mondello, the longtime chairman of the Nassau County Republican Committee — once considered among the most powerful GOP organizations in the country — drew widespread applause from 1,100 fellow Long Island Republicans at a dinner Tuesday night when he suggested King consider a "favorite son" candidacy.
"If he were to run, I would support him," Mondello said in a statement. "Voters know that Peter King respects them, doesn't speak from a pollster's cue card and understands the twin threats facing this nation: the debt and the ongoing war on terror."
Mondello, a former state GOP chairman, added: "Pete has been pilloried by the liberal press because he doesn't play by their rules of political correctness. He sees a threat, he speaks to it and whether you agree with his position or not, he is honest, candid and direct."
King, 67, held hearings earlier this year on what he termed the radicalization of homegrown Islamic terrorists in America. He is serving his 10th term in Congress and, despite being a favorite of conservative groups, has also worked to build bi-partisan relationships with political foes. He has easily won re-election from his suburban Long Island district.
He has become a leader in advocating for more anti-terrorism funding for New York City and noted he was having dinner with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Democrat and Republican who is now an independent, when he learned of the county chairman's comments Tuesday night. He also has supported Long Island Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy on some of her gun-control initiatives and was one of only two New York Republicans to vote against impeaching President Clinton.
King said his office receives 15 to 20 telephone calls or e-mails each week from constituents and others urging him to run for president.
"People mention it, but I am focused on running for the House," he said, but added he would consider running as for president if he were convinced it would help Nassau County Republicans.
Lawrence Levy, executive director of the Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University and an expert on Long Island politics, said a King presidential candidacy should be taken seriously.
"Considering all the different conservative and Republican power centers he appeals to? Why not?" Levy said. "I think he could raise the money. Does he have votes in his record that could alienate him to some Republicans? Yes. But he is as much a national figure as any member of Congress, on Long Island or elsewhere, and that has to be taken seriously, at least for a while."