No endorsement yet by Rep. Steve King

DES MOINES, Iowa — With only two full days of campaigning left before the Iowa caucuses, one of the state's most influential conservative figures claims he still does not know whom he will support.

Rep. Steve King, who represents the state's staunchly Republican 5th District, told The Hill on Saturday night: "I have made no decision. It has to be a decision made out of conviction. I'd never have thought I'd be at this point without a conviction, but I am."

King tellingly followed up this remark by stating that one of the reasons he was having difficulty in making a pick and a public endorsement was because "several of these candidates are friends of mine."

King is known to be a close friend of Michele Bachmann, but the Minnesota congresswoman's precipitous slide in Iowa was underlined by the release of the final Des Moines Register poll earlier Saturday, which indicated that she had the support of just seven percent of likely Republican caucus-goers.

During his brief interview with The Hill, King was enthusiastic about the apparent late surge of support for Rick Santorum. The full Register poll, taken over four days, had Santorum in third place, with 15 per cent support. But when results for the final two days of the polling period — Thursday and Friday — were taken in isolation, Santorum rose to 21 percent, displacing Ron Paul for the second spot and closing to within three points of apparent front-runner Mitt Romney.

Like many observers in the state, King sees Santorum's late rise as vindication, of a kind, of the former Pennsylvania senator's traditional retail-style campaign.

"Santorum just went everywhere all the time," King said.

He added, semi-jokingly, that "I've met a lot of people but when Rick Santorum comes to my district and calls my constituents by their first name, and I don't know who they are — well, that tells you something!"

King seemed as startled as anyone by the fluidity of this year's race, despite his decades of experience of Iowa politics.

"It's like no other race I've ever seen," he said. "It has been a constant contest to be King of the Hill."

He added, "Mitt Romney has been around the summit but he has never really claimed the summit."

King spoke to The Hill at a New Year's Eve party welcoming the media to Iowa. Hosted by a bipartisan committee including Eric Branstad, son of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), the event was titled "Raucous Before the Caucus."

The conservative congressman was not especially raucous. But he did promise an energetic response to any attempt by the Occupy movement to disrupt caucus night, as has been rumored.

"I would tell every Republican, if the Occupy people try to block your way, walk through them," he said.

If left-wing activists somehow made it into the caucuses without registering as Republicans, King said, "we will throw them out in the cold."

He added, smiling, that if they decided to stay and mischievously registered as Republicans, "they will be exposed to the clear force of rational, conservative arguments — and I would expect at least some to be converted."