AMES, Iowa — Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a Tea Party star in the Hawkeye State, attacked Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) hours ahead of the Republican presidential debate for his decision to announce his campaign plans on Saturday, the same day as the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa.

“Rick Perry has strategically decided he’s going to try to step on the straw poll by making his announcement concurrent with the straw poll itself. … His effort is to diminish the straw poll, and if you diminish the straw poll you diminish the Iowa caucus,” King told The Hill Thursday evening. “Iowans understand this. Does he think we’re a bunch of country bumpkins?”

King said that Perry’s tactical decision would make it hard for him to win the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses next winter. 

“The people in this state, especially the active ones that go to the caucus, they’ll remember,” he said. “They know what’s going on strategically and they will not appreciate an effort to diminish the effect of the straw poll.”

The congressman is well known and wields heavy influence in Iowa’s Republican circles — the interview was repeatedly interrupted by debate attendees looking to hug him and thank him for his work in Congress. He said he would endorse a candidate for president “sometime after Labor Day.”

While many expect King to endorse his close friend and ally, Rep. Michele BachmannMichele BachmannEx-rep admires furs amid PETA inaugural gala Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog Will Trump back women’s museum? MORE (R-Minn.), King said that he had not yet made up his mind.

“She would be a strong candidate, but everyone here would make a better president than Barack ObamaBarack ObamaDems unveil infrastructure plan, reach out to Trump Trump to announce Supreme Court pick next week Cards Against Humanity describes Obama in CEO job posting MORE,” King said.

The debate will be the first time many Iowans have seen former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the purported GOP front-runner, since his 2007 campaign. Romney is skipping the straw poll and has spent almost no time in the state, instead focusing on early primary state New Hampshire. King said he was disappointed with Romney’s strategy thus far.
“The only reason that someone wouldn’t come compete here is they don’t think they can compete here. So they make an excuse, that’s not the reason. If they don’t think they can compete in Iowa, why do they think they can be president of the United States?”

But King said if Romney committed in the debate to invest in Iowa he could redeem himself somewhat with voters there. “If he changes his approach, engages here and makes the announcement that he’s going to compete in the Iowa Caucus, that’s different. I’m not saying that makes everything whole but that helps.”