Iowa City Press-Citizen: J.D. Scholten makes a second pitch to win U.S. Rep. Steve King’s 4th District

Democrat J.D. Scholten is taking his second swing at the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s 4th District, the most conservative area in the state.

The former professional baseball player announced he is running again to represent northwest Iowa in 2020 after narrowly losing the general election to incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve King in 2018. The Kiron conservative won by 3.4%, the smallest margin he has faced in a general election in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 190,000 to 120,000.

This time, Scholten said he was hoping to improve on last year’s results. He’s already confident coming into his announcement with much higher national and local name recognition, as well as more attention on Iowa’s 4th District seat at large.

“It’s hard to comprehend how different this is,” he said in an interview with the Des Moines Register. “The amount of attention we’re receiving in just hours compared was months and months worth last time. But we’re still trying to get out with the same thing we did last time: prove that we’re trustworthy and prove that we’re going to fight for the people of this district.”

He launched his new campaign with a video narrated by Kevin Costner Monday morning, and with support from national Democratic groups like Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

He’s coming back with a lot of the same priorities as he had in 2018 — fixing health care, supporting farmers — but with a new goal of meeting even more new voters. He has a “70% goal” for 2020: making sure come Election Day, at least seven of every ten voters in the district have seen him or “Sioux City Sue,” his Winnebago RV with their own eyes.

“We saw the success we had last time,” he said. “We saw that we got 25,000 more voters than there are Democrats in this district. We’re looking to improve on that and it’s by going to all 39 counties, multiple times, and continuing to go where the people are at and listen.”

This week, he’s kicking off his campaign touring in his Winnebago, holding rallies in Sioux City and Ames, as well as visiting the Iowa State Fair Thursday and the Iowa Democratic Party Wing Ding Friday.

While King has been a controversial political figure for many years, tensions reached a boiling point after the Republican’s 2018 reelection. King was removed from his House committees by U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy in January after he was quoted by the New York Times saying: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” 

The backlash from Republicans means Scholten is no longer the only challenger to the prominent Republican official. Prominent GOP challenger state Sen. Randy Feenstra significantly outraised King, and gained support from several national and state conservative figures.

“Two years ago, Congressman Steve King almost handed Iowa’s 4th Congressional District to Nancy Pelosi when liberal Democrat J.D. Scholten nearly won,” Feenstra said in a statement. “Today’s announcement that Scholten will again seek the seat further highlights the need for Iowa Republicans to nominate an effective conservative that will win in November.”

Scholten said even if King doesn’t win the primary, his campaign strategy and message is going to stay the same.

“My game plan is the same as when I was a pitcher in baseball,” he said. “It didn’t matter what the batter was, it didn’t matter who the opponent was, I was going to pitch my game. … My campaign is about who we are and what we can do for the district.”

That doesn’t mean getting King out of the representative seat isn’t a priority.

“He has a voice as a member of Congress that is far too controversial, far too loud — nobody should know who the 4th Congressional District representative is,” he joked. “I really think its time for a change in this district.”

King bashes fellow Americans online, can’t do much in Congress because of his committee removals and has turned off voters on both sides of the aisle, Scholten said, adding that the 4th District is ready for a change.

“American voters are sick of punching down,” he said. “That’s not what I learned in Sioux City, growing up here … That’s our message, no matter who the opponent will be.”

In February, King said he would run for reelection, saying he had nothing to apologize for. King’s campaign could not be reached for comment.

“Don’t let the elitists in this country, the power brokers in this country, tell you who’s going to represent you in the United States Congress,” he told voters in the district. 

Robin Opsahl, Des Moines Register
Published 3:34 p.m. CT Aug. 5, 2019 | Updated 3:34 p.m. CT Aug. 5, 2019

Daily Kos: White supremacist Rep. Steve King faces rematch against the Democrat who almost beat him last year

On Monday, 2018 Democratic nominee J. D. Scholten announced that he would seek a rematch against white supremacist Rep. Steve King. Iowa’s 4th District, which includes the western part of the state, is usually reliably red turf at 61-34 Trump, but last year, Scholten held King to a 50-47 victory. Daily Kos interviewed Scholten ahead of his kick-off.

Scholten, a former baseball player with the semi-pro Sioux City Explorers, launched his second campaign with a well-produced video narrated by Field of Dreams star Kevin Costner. That’s quite a contrast from Scholten’s first bid, which didn’t attract much national attention until just before Election Day. 

That race did generate more interest in October when Scholten was able to go on TV thanks to contributions from King-hating donors from across the country. King, by contrast, ran a very complacent campaign and ceded the airwaves to Scholten for weeks. The incumbent only began running his first TV ad about a week-and-a-half before Election Day―a spot that was lazily recycled from his 2014 campaign. Still, it looked very unlikely that King could lose a seat this conservative.

However, the contest got a whole lot more media coverage about a week before Election Day when voters learned that King was rubbing shoulders with international white supremacist candidates and hate groups. This included an August meeting with the far-right Austrian Freedom Party—which has historical ties to the Nazi Party—that King took during a trip to eastern Europe. Gallingly, that junket was paid for by a Holocaust memorial group.

During this same trip, King also gave an interview to a website allied with the Freedom Party where he asked what diversity brings to America “that we don’t have that is worth the price?” adding, “We have a lot of diversity within the U.S. already.” King also used that same interview to call Jewish philanthropist George Soros a force behind the so-called “Great Replacement,” a conspiracy theory prevalent on the far-right that white Europeans are being deliberately “replaced” by people of color in a scheme fomented by Jews.

King had been a powerful force in Iowa politics for years, and national party leaders and donors had largely ignored his racism or issued at most just minor rebukes, but they finally went a bit further than usual this time. Even NRCC chair Steve Stivers, who just a day after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre defended the anti-Semitic ads his committee had been running elsewhere, tweeted out a condemnation.

While King’s dalliances with the David Duke set might not ordinarily have turned off voters in this very conservative district, they unquestionably did him harm, perhaps because he gained a reputation as a showboater more concerned with his international standing among fascists than with the folks back home in western Iowa. Ultimately, while GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds carried this seat by a wide 59-39 margin, King only narrowly scraped by against Scholten.

King’s situation only got worse in January when he asked a New York Times reporter, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?’” Congressional GOP leaders, perhaps sensing that King was much more of a liability than an asset after 2018, preceded to at last strip him of all of his committee assignments. The incumbent also picked up a few foes in next June’s primary, with state Sen. Randy Feenstra quickly emerging as the main anti-King candidate.

King remains committee-less seven months later, and he’s also nearly cash-less. The incumbent has been a weak fundraiser for years, but the $18,000 war chest he had at the end of June was terrible even for him. Feenstra, by contrast, had $337,000 to spend. Two other candidates, Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor and Army veteran Bret Richards each had less than $50,000 to spend, though they both still had more cash-on-hand than King.

However, Scholten seems convinced that King will still be his opponent next year. The Democrat told The Storm Lake Times’ Art Cullen in late July that he believed Feenstra wasn’t raising enough money to overtake the well-known King, and he predicted that the incumbent would with enough support to win the four-way primary. In Iowa, a candidate needs to win at least 35% of the vote to win the primary outright or else the nomination is decided at a party convention, and Scholten said he believed King would clear this threshold. 

It’s unlikely that another Republican nominee could lose a seat this red. However, if King does prevail in the June primary, he may finally be weak enough to cost his party this seat.

Jeff Singer for Daily Kos ElectionsDaily Kos Staff

Sioux City Journal: Democrat J.D. Scholten running again for Iowa’s 4th District US House seat

J.D. Scholten, who fell just short of pulling off one of the biggest national upsets of the 2018 midterm elections, will seek a rematch with U.S. Rep. Steve King in 2020, citing continuing “vulnerability” of the outspoken Republican incumbent and a team of supporters ready to quickly ratchet up.

“It is night and day compared to last time. Last time, we hoped to win. This time, we know we can win,” Scholten said in an exclusive Journal interview for regional media.

Scholten on Monday morning will officially air his 2020 campaign announcement on a variety of platforms, with social media airing a special video with voiceover by actor Kevin Costner.

“We created something pretty darn special and I think a lot of folks don’t want it to just drop off or end,” he said. “Especially where we came from … I was some sort of, just kind of thrown to the wolves. No one gave us much of a shot.”

Scholten said some supporters wanted him to run for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Joni Ernst. The Democratic establishment in Iowa and Washington, however, backed Theresa Greenfield, a Des Moines businesswoman and former congressional candidate, for the Senate race.

“I would have a tough time running for Senate and watching King get re-elected,” Scholten said. “The other thing is that feeling of unfinished business.”

King, a Republican from Kiron, handily won eight terms in years when the Northwest Iowa congressional districts had 50,000 to 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. For years, Democrats who sought to defeat the conservative King pointed to being able to turn Republicans from King, while bringing independent voters into the fold.

As King sought his ninth term, that playbook almost worked. Scholten methodically worked through the 4th District and raised $3.2 million for his campaign over the cycle, which swamped the $865,566 amount King raised. Scholten attracted national attention and hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-state campaign contributions in the last weeks of the campaign, while some political action committees ran ads against King.

When the ballots were counted, King won by only 10,430 votes.

Scholten won six counties, including the five most populous: Woodbury, Cerro Gordo, Story, Webster and Boone. When Scholten won his home county of Woodbury by nearly 3,000 votes, 53 percent to 44 percent, it marked the first time King lost the congressional district’s most populous county.

Scholten is firing up the recreational vehicle he bought and dubbed the Sioux City Sue, to use with his continuing dogged approach to visit people in small population areas.

“We are gonna be breaking out the bus again,” he said. “I am ecstatic to be driving that thing again.”

He expects to bring in more than $3 million for the 2020 cycle.

“The way we ran last time, we don’t need to have a ton of money. But to have it earlier is just the biggest difference,” Scholten said.

An incident that fuels Scholten is his maternal grandmother in rural Lake Mills, Iowa, at Thanksgiving 2016, shortly before she died, saying, “J.D., you’ve got to take care of the farm.”

Scholten said the key issues remain in the largely rural congressional district, where he said King hasn’t helped the 54,200 farmers. He said a stop at most convenience stores will show a donation jar for people needing money for major health care bills.

His theme will again be Fix, Fight, Secure.

“We have to fix health care, fight for an economy that works for all of us and secure our democracy by cleaning up Washington and getting money out of politics,” Scholten said.

This is a different year for King, with three fellow Republican competitors getting in the race early, so it is conceivable Scholten may not even face King in November. King was stripped of his House committee assignments for his January comments defending white supremacy that appeared in a national news story. King has maintained his comments were misheard.

The Republicans running in the 4th District are state Sen. Randy Feenstra, of Hull, Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor, of Sioux City, and former Irwin Mayor Bret Richards. Feenstra has jumped out to a large fundraising advantage in the race.

Scholten said he expects King has the inside track to winning the primary.

“It doesn’t matter who wins the primary, my issues will be the same,” the Democrat said. “If I had to bet, I’d say it is King. He’s never lost a race.”

No other Democrats living in the 39 counties of the Iowa 4th Congressional District have announced as candidates. Scholten said he expects no other Democrats will join the field.

He will hold a Monday rally in Sioux City and campaign in Ames on Tuesday.

The Atlantic: How Steve King Could Turn Iowa Blue

For J. D. Scholten to have a real chance in Iowa’s Fourth District, he’ll need the incendiary congressman to win his Republican primary.

SIOUX CITY, IOWA—J. D. Scholten is back for round two.

The 39-year-old former baseball player announced early this morning—in a dreamy, nostalgia-laced video narrated by the Field of Dreams actor Kevin Costner—that he’s running for Representative Steve King’s congressional seat in Northwest Iowa. Scholten has tried this before: In last year’s midterms, the Democrat proved capable competition for King—a Republican whose name, for many Americans, has become synonymous with racism and xenophobia—by driving to every corner of the district in his Winnebago, called Sioux City Sue, and aggressively courting voters. Scholten ultimately lost by a thin 3 percent margin, the closest race King has ever had.

“We almost did it,” Scholten told me in an interview before his announcement, noting that he performed 24 points better against King in the district than Hillary Clinton did against Donald Trump in 2016. Scholten is running again, he said, to address this “unfinished business.” And when he does, he’ll have the power of his party behind him: Nothing would give the Democrats more pleasure than ousting King and flipping Iowa’s last red congressional district blue.

But this time around, circumstances will be different. Institutional support for King has waned somewhat in the heavily Republican district, and the congressman has attracted at least three viable Republican challengers, none of whom appears to share his penchant for nativism. If one of them beats King for their party’s nomination, it’s likely to kill Scholten’s chances in the general election. Put another way: It would take nothing short of a miracle for a Democrat to beat a Republican here in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District. Scholten could be that Democrat—as long as King is that Republican.

King, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, has won reelection nine consecutive times, mostly by healthy margins. But while many of King’s voters have pointed to his likability when explaining their support, the Republican lawmaker has a long history of inflammatory and racist remarks, from his infamous 2013 comment in which he compared undocumented immigrants’ calves to “cantaloupes” to his tweeted assertion in 2017 that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” More recently, congressional Republicans stripped King of his House committee assignments for comments he made to The New York Times about white supremacy. “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” King told the Times. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

Read: Steve King’s improbable ascendance

To understand why King keeps getting reelected, it helps to understand just how conservative Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District is. Stretching from Ames to Rock Rapids, the large, mostly rural region hasn’t been represented by a Democrat in Congress since 1986. Its residents—who are mostly white—are both highly religious and highly suspicious of the federal government. Even if they don’t agree with King’s most incendiary comments (although, of course, many do), as I reported last year, they see him as otherwise ideologically aligned with the district.

“We’d elect Attila the Hun if he was pro-life and had Republican behind his name,” Art Cullen, the editor of The Storm Lake Times, a small newspaper in the district, told me in an interview.

In 2018, as the controversy surrounding King grew, Scholten saw an opening. The 6-foot-6-inch young Democrat, promising to “stand tall for all,” ran against King as a kind of midwestern populist, and struck a middle-ground approach on several social issues, including abortion (he is against a federal ban but, gesturing to his Catholic faith, said he would like to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies) and gun control.

We spoke yesterday following the weekend’s two mass shootings: one in El Paso, Texas, where at least 20 people died, and another, hours later, in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed. Asked how the government should address the prevalence of this violence, Scholten told me that gun bans aren’t the answer, but that strict background checks should be required.

The suspect in the El Paso shooting allegedly posted a manifesto in which he described “the Hispanic invasion of Texas” as his reason for the killings. Racist rhetoric from elected officials such as Trump and King has been criticized for promoting this kind of white-supremacist ideology. “Words have consequences,” Scholten told me yesterday. “The hatred and racism that has become too commonplace in our country does fuel violence.”

In the 2018 campaign, Scholten did relatively well. He out-raised King two to one over the course of the race, including a last-minute surge in fundraising before Election Day, right as King was being chastised by his party for comments he made in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Ultimately, however, Scholten lost by roughly 10,000 votes.

In some ways, a 2020 challenge could work out better for Scholten, who is so far the only Democrat in the race. He’ll have much wider name recognition both in the district and around the country, helping to attract both votes and cash. He told me that he’s expecting support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ campaign arm, and he’s already gotten an endorsement from Democracy for America, a progressive political-action committee.

But the environment in the Fourth District still isn’t conducive to an easy win. Republicans outnumber Democrats here by nearly 70,000. Scholten might have a decent shot against King—who is viewed by some Republican and independent voters in the district as having become just too controversial—but it’s likely that he’d fare less well against a scandal-free Republican. “Absent King as foil, J. D. Scholten is not a popular [candidate],” says Rachel Paine Caufield, a political-science professor at Drake University in Des Moines.

King is facing the toughest primary election he’s had in recent history. The nine-time incumbent congressman had only about $18,000 in cash on hand after the second quarter of 2019. The National Republican Congressional Committee said earlier this year that it wouldn’t get involved in King’s primary race. “He definitely hemorrhaged support from many traditional institutional Republican groups” after he was thrown off the House Judiciary and Agriculture Committees, says Douglas Burns, a journalist and co-owner of the Carroll Daily Times Herald, based in the southern part of the district. And some of his comments have become “toxic” for some local businesses and organizations that would otherwise typically support him, Burns adds.

According to two Republican strategists I spoke with, the campaign of Randy Feenstra, an assistant majority leader in the state Senate, poses the biggest threat to King. The other two Republicans credibly challenging the congressman are Jeremy Taylor, a former state legislator, and Bret Richards, a retired businessman. “This is not really an ideological contest; it’s an effectiveness contest, and Feenstra wins that hands down,” David Kochel, an Iowa GOP operative, told me, citing Feenstra’s work in the state Senate. Another in-state strategist, David Oman, told me that he thinks residents of the district are ready for a new, and less controversial, voice. Feenstra “is well read, respectful, and works to solve problems, not stir the pot and create man-made crises,” Oman said.

King’s challengers would need to beat him outright. If none of the four Republicans reaches the 35 percent threshold necessary to win the primary, the race will be decided at a nominating convention. There, both Kochel and Oman agreed, King would likely win.

Democrats hoping to take the district back from Republicans for the first time in three decades may be rooting for King next June, no matter how he pulls it off. But whatever happens, Scholten told me, his strategy will be the same. “If you get out to the people, prove you’re gonna fight for your district, you’re gonna earn votes regardless of their voter history,” Scholten said, explaining that his goal is to interact with at least 70 percent of the district’s residents. “That’s what we did last time, and we’re gonna continue to do it this time.”

ELAINE GODFREY AUG 5, 2019

HuffPost: J.D. Scholten, Who Nearly Defeated White Nationalist Steve King, Is Running Again

J.D. Scholten, the Democrat who nearly defeated Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) in 2018, announced Monday that he will seek to challenge the white nationalist congressman once again.

Scholten, a former baseball player, launched his run Monday with a video narrated by “Field of Dreams” star Kevin Costner.

Last fall, Scholten lost to King by only 3% of the vote, the closest margin for any of the Iowa congressman’s challengers during his nine terms in Congress.

After a long history of promoting racist and white nationalist rhetoric, as documented by HuffPost’s Chris Mathias last year, King has finally started to face some consequences. In January, after a New York Times interview in which he condoned white supremacy, GOP leaders removed him from congressional committees.

Scholten is the first Democrat so far to announce a run in the race against King, who represents Iowa’s fourth congressional district. Several Republicans have announced primary challenges against King.

By Marina Fang 08/05/2019 09:55 am ET