Rep. Peter King: 'I'm serious' about possible 2016 White House bid

Rep. Peter King says he’s dead serious about exploring a bid for the White House, even as GOP strategists and consultants offer steep and potentially insurmountable odds for the New York Republican.

“This is not a game I’m playing, I’m serious,” King told The Hill after spending the earlier part of this week in New Hampshire meeting with voters.

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King said he’s headed back to the first-in-the-nation primary state for the first two weekends in September to continue testing the waters, but that his final decision won’t likely come before early 2015.

“I’m serious about looking at it and we’ll see where it goes from there,” he said. “I have no intention of being there just for the sake of being there, so if I think there’s any real chance and support, then we’ll move forward."

The 11-term lawmaker has yet to hire any campaign staff, conduct any polling, or extensively reach out to major donors, however, which has given GOP insiders pause as they wonder whether King is really serious about vying for the presidency in 2016.

“The congressman is a classic definition of a long-shot primary candidate up here if he decides to run, there’s no question about that,” said Jim Merrill, who led Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign in New Hampshire.

“That’s not to say that he can’t contribute meaningfully to the debate but it’ll certainly be a challenge for him.”

King, the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the highly secretive Intelligence panel, has become a leading voice on television news shows espousing his views on the issue of national security and criticizing the Obama administration.

The issue has become his central platform and initial message to voters, as he tries to guide his party away from the libertarian foreign policy and defense positions held by other potential GOP presidential candidates, such as Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas).

“This has nothing to do with Rand Paul personally, but I definitely want to keep the party from going the route of what I call the ‘Rand Paul isolationist wing’ of the party,” King said.

“At the same time I’m testing the waters myself presidentially. It’s sort of like walking and chewing gum at the same time. I’m very serious about the issue but I’m also very serious about seeing what the possibilities are about running for president.”

King told the Burlington Free Press earlier this week that Paul's policies have "set the Republican Party back 50 years."

Some strategists wonder which is more realistic for King — impacting the national security conversation or becoming president — and whether he’s using a possible presidential bid as an excuse to try to fundamentally change the Republican party’s direction and message on national security as a whole.

“It seems that he’s far more wedded to the GOP emphasis on national defense than he is to actual ambitions of sitting in the White House,” said GOP political operative Ford O’Connell.

“Internally he may be testing the waters but he knows in the back of his mind that he has a better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot this year before he becomes president of the United States. And I think part of it is that he’s getting coverage because we’re a leaderless party with no true front-runner," O'Connell said.

Even Democrats wonder whether King stands much of a chance. After King hinted at a possible presidential bid last month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked by a reporter during a press conference for her thoughts on the matter.

“Was he serious?” she responded to a room full of laughter.

Coming from the House chamber, King faces historically steep odds because he doesn’t have the donor base or the name recognition that other candidates coming from a governorship or the Senate may have.

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, more about 70 percent of respondents did not know who King was.

"Even if there is about 29 percent of the country that knows who I am, well that’s about 40 million voters. That’s not bad for somebody who’s starting from a congressional seat," King said.

King also stressed that of those who had met him, the poll showed strong favorability ratings for him.

“That means that once people do get to know me, I make an impact on them,” he said.

Indeed, Pelosi elaborated on her remarks to say that King was a “great guy” and that she liked him personally.

King said he isn’t looking for any endorsements at this point, but that he’s talked to some of his political colleagues, calling Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) ahead of his visit to let her know he was coming and touching base with staff who work with former New York City Mayor and 2012 GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Guiliani.

A more fundamental problem for King, however, may be his ability to raise money, according to Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. He especially may face an uphill battle to fundraise if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie decides to enter the race.

“Going from the House is extremely difficult if you want to become a first tier candidate. You don’t have the donor base, you don’t have the name ID, the staff, and the organization. And so you, at best, come in as a second or third tier candidate by default.”

“What major donor is going to prefer Peter King to Chris Christie? Maybe King’s family members. He’s going to have an enormously difficult time raising money.”