WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Congressman Peter King believes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would cruise to a 2016 presidential victory if she faced Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Rand Paul.

Speaking to ABC News, the Republican lawmaker said Clinton would “destroy” the two in a national election.

“I think she’s very strong on foreign policy, and I think that if we nominate someone from our isolationist wing of the party, she’ll destroy them,” King said.

Cruz dismissed talk of a possible presidential run while speaking with ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

“We are having a national debate about which direction the country should go … and what I am doing now is trying to participate in that national debate,” Cruz said. “I’m not focused on the politics … the last office I was elected to was student council. So this has been a bit of a whirlwind.”

King sees the two Tea Party favorites having limited appeal to voters and threatening GOP aspirations of winning back the White House. A top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, King said Friday that he was considering a presidential bid in 2016.

King said the fledgling field of Republican presidential candidates — Paul and Cruz included — were not talking about strong national defense or reaching out to the “old Reagan coalition” of working-class voters, such as construction workers, police officers and firefighters. He specifically cited Paul’s filibuster in March to warn against the threat of unmanned drone attacks against U.S. citizens on American soil.

“Both of them endanger us winning nationally and also, more important than that, they hurt our national defense,” King said. “The fact that they’re out in Iowa, that they right now are setting the tone of the national debate, I think is harmful to the Republican Party, and in the long-run, despite their good intentions, I think it’s harmful to the country, harmful to our national defense.”

Cruz gave a measured response to King’s statements.

“I don’t know Mr. King. He is certainly entitled to his opinions,” the freshman senator said. “I’m going to keep my focus not on politics but on the substance.”

During a feisty lunchtime speech to Iowa state party faithful Friday, Cruz said he wanted to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and defund President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

“The way we get this done is the American people stand together. Stop talking, start acting,” Cruz said.

Paul, meanwhile, said he favored a strong national defense but thought some Republicans were too eager to go to war.

“(Former President Ronald) Reagan talks about a reluctance to go to war. That’s a historic position of the Republican Party and I think I represent the Reagan tradition of peace through strength, not war through strength,” he said.

Wooing evangelical ministers could be key to a Republican victory in the Iowa caucuses, the nation’s first presidential nominating event. Cruz, Paul, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — the 2012 caucus winner — all could appeal to the Christian conservative bloc of the party in 2016. None has declared his candidacy yet.

Political experts agreed that the ministers have yet to zero-in on a candidate, and a desire after eight years to put a candidate in the White House more in line with their views might push conservative Christians to consider whether they could live with someone who’s more moderate.

“Evangelicals, they are looking. Social conservatives, they are looking,” said Chip Saltsman, who was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s campaign manager in 2008. “They want to be on a winning team.”

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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