As comprehensive immigration reform languishes in Congress, Democrats have found their mascot for Republican opposition in the form of Iowa Rep. Steve King, whose recent offensive comments about immigrants are being used against other Republicans just as those of former Senate candidatesTodd Akin's remarks about women were. The first target: Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who once called King his favorite congressman.
"Just as Todd Akin helped expose many Republicans' deeply offensive views regarding women, Steve King is now exposing the extreme disregard, and even disdain in some cases, that many Republicans like Ken Cuccinelli seem to hold toward immigrants," Danny Kanner, the spokesperson for the Democratic Governors Association, told Salon.
After a clip resurfaced of the Virginia attorney general praising King, Old Dominion Democrats sent out emails warning that Cuccinelli has a "Steve King problem." The liberal opposition research group American Bridge produced a video, shared with Salon ahead of its public release, calling Cuccinelli "The Steve King of Virginia." Watch it:
"Steve King is one of my very favorite congressmen," Cuccinelli said at a 2012 Lincoln Day Dinner in Iowa. "No disrespect to any of the others, but I probably spend more time with Steve on Capitol Hill than anybody else."
Democrats are also calling attention to a separate quote of Cuccinelli's that recently surfaced, in which he compared immigration policy to pest control.
"Ken Cuccinelli's offensive comments and admiration of Steve King is representative of his extreme social agenda and career-long record of intolerance. It's telling that while the rest of the Republican party is condemning Steve King, Ken Cuccinelli embraces the same divisive policies of the past," Josh Schwerin, a spokesperson for Cuccinelli's opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, told Salon.
In the same way that Democrats used former Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin as shorthand for what they argued was the Republican Party's "war on women," King is serving as the exemplar of what they see as the GOP's view of Hispanics. King has long been one of the GOP's most vocal hardliners on immigration, but his oddly specific comments this week on the cantaloupe-sized calves of undocumented drug smugglers have caught fire, and his refusal to back down have exemplified what Democrats see as Republicans' antipathy towards Hispanic immigrants.
As with Akin's comments on "legitimate rape," GOP leaders have rushed to distance themselves from King, but the damage is done. And King is even more problematic for the GOP than Akin in some ways.
While Akin was never much liked inside the House GOP caucus, King is no outlier. "In fact, when it comes to the undocumented youth, there’s a decent argument that he’s the de facto policy leader," Benjy Sarlin wrote this week for MSNBC.com. All but six Republicans voted for an amendment King introduced last month to roll back the Obama administration's deferred action policy for undocumented youth. Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the House have no immigration plan to compete with King's. "The Congressman whipping the caucus on immigration votes isn’t Boehner -- it’s King," Sarlin added.