SIOUX CITY, Iowa --- Steve King and Michele Bachmann are in some ways the yin and yang of conservative Republicans.
King, 62, is a former construction business owner from small-town western Iowa, and Bachmann, 55, is a photogenic tax attorney from Stillwater, Minn., population 18,000 and mere miles from the Twin Cities. She was born in Waterloo.
King has never had to raise much money in winning five Iowa 5th District congressional elections, while Bachmann is a prodigious fundraiser, both for her House wins and now in a bid for the 2012 Republican nomination for president.
But both are high-profile, deeply conservative members of the U.S. House of Representatives who have a penchant for making provocative remarks. They've worked closely together to repeal federal health care reform and to hack away at President Barack Obama's political agenda. Often they are joined in those efforts by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who two weeks ago told the Carroll (Iowa) Daily Times Herald that King would make a good vice presidential candidate.
While the King-Bachmann relationship is primarily a political one, they've also developed a friendship. Their kids have met and spouses Marilyn King and Marcus Bachmann have socialized.
"I have no better friend in Congress, and she says that I'm her best friend in Congress. She's said that publicly a number of times," King said of Bachmann.
At times, they've both boosted the other for a run at the 2012 presidency. Bachmann followed through in 2011 and nabbed an early ceremonial victory in the Aug. 13 Iowa GOP Straw Poll, capping a summer in which she has vaulted to the top tier of Republican candidates.
King has yet to endorse his friend in the GOP race for president, but political observers say it's merely a matter of time.
In the beginning
King, who has been a member of Congress since 2003, said the genesis for the Bachmann comradeship came in 2007.
King was on the House floor late one evening to undertake a "special orders" talk, when the House is nearly empty and members can speak up to an hour on pet topics. King told the neophyte Bachmann, who was elected in late 2006, that special orders speeches are a good way to hold forth on a topic without being weighed down with procedural time limits.
The two didn't know each other well then, their previous meetings had been forgettable, but she chose to follow his suggestion to partner on a special order. But Bachmann came to the chamber not knowing the topic, which he shared with her in a few sentences. King could tell she wasn't up to speed on the issue. (King declined to address the topic of the evening.)
Bachmann left the area as King began his 60-minute stint. He figured she wouldn't return.
"A freshman likely would be saying, 'OK, fine, this guy set me up, I'm gone.' But 10 or 15 minutes later she was back down on the floor, and standing at a microphone with an expectant look on her face," King said. "I recognized her and she addressed the issue as if she had been an expert for a lifetime. Everything she said was factually correct and it fit politically and it had been formed to the message I was delivering."
"That impressed me, and from that moment on I knew that we had somebody who has exceptional ability."
Bachmann could not be reached for an interview. Her congressional office reported requests would need to be routed through her campaign team, but interview inquiries received no response.
King and Bachmann have offices in two separate D.C. buildings and don't serve on any of the same House committees, but have since worked together in many different ways. They once shared a press spokesman (Sergio Gor) for five months in 2010, when King said he needed more help getting bookings for national media.
Gohmert, who said he gravitated to King and then Bachmann because he could see they were federal lawmakers who won't engage in "backstabbing," said the tight friendship of King and Bachmann is easy to see on the surface.
"Michele thinks the world of Steve King and treasures his opinion, and so do I," said Gohmert.
Gohmert, who was elected to Congress shortly after King, said the two are often unfairly depicted as mean-spirited or nasty, pointing specifically to Newsweek magazine's unflattering cover picture of Bachmann with the headline "Queen of Rage."
"They both have wonderful senses of humor and are never far from just a big laugh," Gohmert said.
King said his discussions with Bachmann have recently tapered off as her presidential campaign has heated up. Now, he may not speak to her for a week, but said soon "we might have a series of intense conversations...."
"There is a campaign bubble that surrounds her," he said.
King said Bachmann is a "full-spectrum conservative," both socially and fiscally, and she's tightly aligned with the tea party that vaulted into prominence in spring 2009. He pointed to her pro-life, traditional marriage positions, and to Bachmann recognizing Keynesian attempts to aid the economy are doomed to failure.
Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford said King and Bachmann are an obvious couple on conservative issues; she's a "great political cheerleader" and King is a "rhetorical bomb thrower."
"They seem to be ideological clones. If there is a significant difference between the two of them, I'm not immediately aware of it," Goldford said.
Woodbury County Republican Party Chairman Brian Rosener said he doesn't necessarily like the tea party label for King and Bachmann, saying a better phrase is that they are "Constitutionally conservative lawmakers."
King and Bachmann have often held joint press conferences in those efforts, such as a 2009 Kill The Bill rally about pending health care reform and in July 2011 when they discussed spending priorities ahead of the looming approach of the $14 trillion federal debt limit.
Gohmert said their political relationship is as much about the conviction of their beliefs as it is about specific ideology.
"They are both so incredibly unique," Gohmert said. "But I see commonality in determination, in standing on principle and in being a friend, and really, trying to live out the virtues that Jesus talked about in his Sermon on the Mount."
Goldford said if King were to endorse and campaign for Bachmann's candidacy, it wouldn't necessarily mean the congresswoman would be the favorite to win the February 2012 Iowa caucuses. He said Iowa conservatives have high regard for King but also will look at other candidates in a field that just added Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the group including Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich.
"It is hard to deliver a caucus," Goldford said. "I think (King's) supporters certainly respect him, but they are not necessarily going to do what he tells them. I think they will make their own judgments."
Regardless of the power of King's endorsement, his relationship with Bachmann puts him in a unique position. Gohmert told the Carroll (Iowa) Daily Times Herald this month King would be an asset no matter what role he served.
"This country would be blessed to have him as president, as vice president, (and) is blessed to have him as a member of Congress," Gohmert told the Daily Times Herald.
Rosener said Bachmann has no doubt built trust with King. Therefore, Rosener said he sees "a great deal of potential" King would have a place in the Bachmann administration, should she become president in January 2013.
"If she is the next president, I certainly think and believe she has the character and the wisdom appoint people who think and work on the same lines," Rosener said.