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Can the Humane Society Put Rep. Steve King to Sleep?

In May, Iowa Congressman Steve King ran afoul of immigrants-rights groups when he compared America’s newest arrivals to dogs. “You want a good bird dog? he asked a town hall. “Pick the one that’s the friskiest … not the one that’s over there sleeping in the corner.” He suggested this as a model for America’s immigration policy: “We’ve got the pick of every donor civilization on the planet.”

King, who owns bird dogs, insisted last month that the comparison was a “compliment.” And yet the congressman -- a bete noire of left-wing media thanks to his outlandish persona -- has run afoul of groups on both sides of his crude comparison. In fact, the biggest outside spender on his race isn’t a group protecting the immigrants he offended, but rather a group protecting the animals he compared them to: the Humane Society.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund has spent $500,000 so far this cycle to defeat King in his race against Democrat Christine Vilsack—currently rated a toss-up by Real Clear Politics. That’s half of the Humane Society’s total election budget. After five terms in the House, King is running in a newly gerrymandered district, making this the toughest race of his career.

The Humane Society’s ad campaign, called “Stop the King of Cruelty,” shows images of barbed wire and sad-eyed dogs in cages. It focuses on King’s opposition to pet-related legal protections, such as stronger laws against animal fighting. After years of King’s disdain and ridicule—he calls them “anti-meat liberals”—animal rights groups undoubtedly relish the opportunity to oust him from the House. “Steve King has most extreme record on animal cruelty issues in the entire Congress,” says Michael Markarian, President of the Human Society Legislative Fund.

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King, whose perch on the Agricultural Committee means a lot of animal-related legislation crosses his desk, has always been a bit preoccupied with animal rights groups. In April 2010, he condemned 4-H for inviting the Humane Society to speak at its national conference, calling the Humane Society “a political machine” run by “vegetarians with an extreme anti-meat agenda.” In an April town hall in Iowa, King boasted about an agricultural committee hearing where he forced the leaders of animal rights groups including PETA and the Humane society, into “confessions” that they were vegetarians “under oath.”

King’s backed up his rhetoric by casting votes against many of the group’s legislative priorities. He was one of 24 House members to vote against including pets in disaster relief planning and opposed restricting the exotic pet trade of chimpanzees. He introduced a provision in the most recent version of the House agriculture bill that would block a California law requiring larger cages for egg-laying hens. The Humane Society president, Wayne Pacelle, told the Hill that the vague wording of the law could “nullify thousands of local laws.” King has also made news for his vocal opposition to laws relating to dog and cock fighting.

“The nature of dogs and chickens is to fight,” King has said, “I don't condone it.” King says such measures put the needs of animals before the needs of people. King has complained that it is a “federal crime to watch animals fight ... but it’s not a federal crime to induce somebody to watch people fighting. There’s something wrong with the priorities of people who think like that.”

King’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but his campaign recently framed his opposition to the laws in terms of limiting federal overreach. Speaking to the Associated Press this week, his spokesman said, “Why create more and more government bureaucracies and legislation when something is already illegal?”

King has needled other animal-rights groups besides the Humane Society. In February 2010, King got into it with PETA when he tweeted, “Mid-day, mid-blizzard, 15 degrees, Crazy Raccoon chewing and clawing his way into my house. Desert Eagle 1, Crazy Raccoon zero.” In response to the tweet, PETA’s spokeswoman, Jaime Zalac, snarled to Fox News, “It doesn’t give you comfort in your representatives when a member of Congress finds it amusing to boast of shooting a desperately cold animal who is 100 times smaller than he is and whose only misstep was trying to get into a large, warm house.” King responded: “A small animal would be a mouse, I suppose, or a shrew. A ‘coon is a medium-sized animal, but if anybody’s every tackled one with a club…you’ll find out they get pretty ferocious.”

The raccoon that crossed King’s path is long since vanquished, but now, with Vilsack threatening, the animals—or at least their human protectors—finally have a battle that they can actually win.