Will New York Send a King to the Senate?

Long Island Congressman Peter King yesterday announced his intention to seek the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton. New York Governor Paterson is expected soon to appoint an interim successor, who will hold the seat until a special election in 2010:

Republican Rep. Peter King of Seaford plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010, challenging whomever replaces Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“I definitely want to run,” he said Tuesday. “I believe the average New Yorker will identify with me. I certainly identify with them and their needs…”

King estimated he would need “at least $30 million” to be viable and planned to meet with strategists and fundraisers next week. He also said he would emphasize his working-class background – his father was a New York City police officer – and work on fighting terrorism and forging peace in Northern Ireland.

There’s probably no Republican in New York — with the possible exception of Rudy Giuliani — who stands a better chance of winning a Senate race than Peter King. He has represented a congressional district on vote-rich Long Island for 16 years, and has developed a reputation for scrupulous attention to the needs of the state and the district — notably on anti-terror funding. He has a generally conservative voting record, if not as conservative as some of his southern colleagues. He has a better rating from unions than many other Republicans, which is common for New York. He has a strong pro-life voting record, which is sure to be a line of attack used against him in a statewide race.  But with a pro-choice president in the White House, that attack is likely to be of limited effectiveness.

When looking at King, you can’t help but notice the similarities to New York’s last Republican Senator — Alfonse D’Amato. Like D’Amato, King is a product of the Nassau County Republican machine. He is a conservative, but with a ‘maverick’ reputation (King supported McCain in 2000 and Giuliani in 2008). Like D’Amato, King is an observant Catholic who is known for his attention to his immigrant roots (King has written several novels on the Irish peace process). Both share a reputation for constituent service and putting New York first. And like D’Amato, King’s quick tongue has occasionally gotten him in trouble (although D’Amato was at times known for cursing — something King is not guilty of).

King’s chances are also enhanced if he manages to avoid a difficult primary. Fortunately, former New York City Mayor Giuliani is a fan:

Another person mentioned as a possible GOP contender, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, praised King. He “is exactly the sort of senator that New York City and New York State needs,” Giuliani said through an aide. “He is already an expert on terrorism, and his knowledge … would be invaluable in the Senate.”

Any Republican is likely to face an uphill race in a statewide race in New York. But King is situated better than most. If voters are dissatisfied with the direction of the Obama administration in 2010, or if Clinton’s appointed successor runs into trouble, King could emerge as a strong candidate in a state Democrats usually take for granted.