Iowa Republicans may not have a Senate candidate yet, but former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker is readying to fill the void if Rep. Steve King takes a pass on the race. "It's smart to take steps to move forward no matter what [King's] decision is," Whitaker said. "At some point in time the race needs to get started."
Whitaker said he will run if King doesn't, regardless of the decisions of any other potential Republican candidates. "I fully expect a primary, but I think we'll have to let it see how it plays," he said. Meanwhile, he's talking to campaign veterans and planning a trip to East Coast. Whitaker said he's working to arrange a meeting with the National Republican Senatorial Committee as part of that trip.
As far as his electoral credentials, Whitaker points to his record as a prosecutor and small businessman, as well as his political background -- he worked on both Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry's Iowa campaigns. "I went to my first caucus when I was 17, when I was a senior in high school, and have been active and involved in politics ever since," he said.
It also can't hurt that Whitaker played tight end on the University of Iowa's Big Ten champion football team in 1990, the last year the school appeared in the Rose Bowl. "It's just context for who I am," he said, pledging to run a campaign on issues rather than past achievements. "I don't plan on wearing my Rose Bowl jersey to eastern Iowa," he said. Besides, he joked, he still has to win over Iowa State supporters, calling Cyclone fans "one of the major outreach efforts of my campaign."
School affiliations aside, Whitaker said he can appeal to the various elements within the Iowa GOP, including libertarians, evangelicals and Tea Party activists. "I share a lot of the libertarians' beliefs on the limited role of government. I'm a man of faith and have strong Christian beliefs," he said, adding that he identifies with "the Tea Party and what it stands for. [Those are] natural constituencies for me."
When told he had been compared to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Whitaker laughed and said he knew Christie through their overlapping tenures as U.S. Attorneys. "I'm plainspoken, no-nonsense and practical," Whitaker said. "Chris is a great model of a blunt leader who tells it like it is. I take that as a compliment."
Whitaker said he expects King "will make a decision in short order," but in the meantime he's preparing to launch a bid if the conservative firebrand opts to pass. "I think given the opportunity, I'm going to put everything I have into this and build a first-class campaign," he said.