WASHINGTON - Iowa Rep. Steve King, whose hard line immigration rhetoric has angered some of his fellow Republicans and delighted Democrats eager to keep Hispanic voters in their fold, is quietly planning meetings with political activists in the early presidential primary state of South Carolina, CNN has learned.
King will travel to the state in late August to attend the Charleston Meeting, a closed-door gathering of right-leaning politicians and business leaders organized by author and activist Mallory Factor, two Republican sources said.
The Charleston Meeting and its sibling, the New York Meeting, are semi-regular events hosted by Factor that bring together influential conservative figures from around the country - not necessarily the local activists who will be key players in the state's primary, the first southern contest in the 2016 presidential nomination fight.
But King has also set up an invitation-only coffee in Charleston with a small group of area GOP leaders, according to Lin Bennett, a vice chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.
Bennett, the former leader of the Charleston County GOP, has brokered similar meetings in the past for ambitious politicians hoping to make inroads into the state's conservative movement.
"When they call and ask me to do that, my thought is maybe they are thinking about a presidential run," Bennett told CNN.
Bennett described the meeting, set for Aug. 26, as an introductory session with about 20 activists - "just an opportunity for some people to talk to him."
"He is very conservative, and I think the conservative activists will like him," she said. "But they don't know him."
Aides to King did not respond to requests for comment about the trip.
If King is curious about seeking the Republican nomination in 2016, as his visit to South Carolina suggests, he would certainly face difficult odds, since no sitting member of the House has been elected president since James Garfield in 1880.
King, though, would have a national platform to discuss his policy ideas and might appeal to elements of the Republican base that remain firmly opposed to the immigration reform bill – "amnesty," in his words - that recently passed the Senate.
He would also add a wrinkle to the Iowa caucuses, given that he represents a conservative and heavily evangelical district in northwest Iowa that figures prominently in the leadoff nominating contest.