Potential candidates Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker all spoke at King’s Iowa gathering; other top contenders, including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney, and Rand Paul, did not attend. The Republicans were met in Iowa by a phalanx of immigration activists and Democratic officials, including the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, who loudly decried their willingness to kiss the ring of such a divisive figure. King has become notorious in the Hispanic community, but it’s not clear how much clout he will have in the 2016 Iowa caucuses: Though thought to have a following among hard-core conservatives, he made no endorsement in 2012, and in 2008 endorsed the television actor and former senator Fred Thompson, who finished third.
“I hope this is not wishful thinking—I think Steve King is in the process of marginalizing himself, even within his own party,” said Harold Heie, an immigrants’ rights advocate based in Sioux City, whose group sponsored a pro-immigration-reform ad in the Des Moines Register. Failing that, said Erika Andiola, co-director of the DRM Action Coalition, Republicans need to remember what happened in 2012, when Romney’s loss was ascribed in part to his poor showing among Hispanic voters. “It’s very important to get that message to the presidential candidates—to remind them what happened to Mitt Romney and remind them what the Latino community’s really thinking,” she said.