The Washington Post: For Trump, hints of trouble in ethanol country

Democratic congressional candidate J.D. Scholten rumbled his RV to a stop in the gravel a mile east of Pomeroy, Iowa, (pop. 612) on Tuesday. A man got out of a car blocking the road ahead and flagged down the aging Winnebago that serves as Scholten’s headquarters and road unit.

John O’Brien of Fort Dodge marched up to Scholten’s window and stuck his mitt through for a shake. “Need a driver? I’m retired now. Just bagged two pheasants,” he explained.

Scholten, a 39-year-old former semi-pro pitcher, was out on a 14-county “Don’t Forget About Us Tour” targeting Iowa towns of 1,000 people or fewer in his uphill climb against Rep. Steve King, the anti-immigrant Republican who dabbles in white nationalism.

King’s hokum has earned him four GOP primary opponents next June. Last winter, House leadership stripped King of his committee assignments for the latest in a 20-year string of outrageous comments about Mexicans, gays and the superiority of white northern European cultures. King’s base here remains solid. Pro-life voters stand with him in this land of German Catholics, stoic Lutherans and Dutch Reform enclaves for whom abortion is the main, if not the only, issue. His public shaming serves King well as an embattled populist foil to the Washington elite who rig the game against us out here amid the swaying dry corn of northwest Iowa.

Scholten gave King, 70, a scare last year in an election that saw Democrats take the House. In Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, Republicans outnumber Democrats by 70,000. Scholten finished 10,000 votes short. “Last time I thought we could win,” Scholten said. “This time I expect we will win.”

While much of the state is in the throes of harvest, Scholten says he smells something in the corn dust. Farmers here are unhappy with President Trump for granting 31 petroleum refineries waivers from federal requirements that they blend corn ethanol into their gasoline. Corn prices dropped not long after. Former governor Terry Branstad, now ambassador to trade-conflicted China, warned Trump not to grant the waivers. Trump did it anyway. “They screwed us,” Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the state’s senior senator, admitted. (Corn prices are still up about 20 cents a bushel from last fall, near the break-even point for most growers.)

Now, two of state’s 54 ethanol and biodiesel plants have shut down while others have reduced production or are on “hot idle,” and ethanol prices have dropped since the waivers took effect. Meanwhile, the trade war knocked the price of soybeans off by one-third; China was Iowa’s biggest agricultural export market. Trump-voting farmers who serve on ethanol cooperative boards swear they will not be hoodwinked again. That gives the Democrats a chance — if only a chance — to take back a House seat here in Iowa’s most conservative corner.

Keith Kuhrt was among 29 folks who turned up in Pomeroy willing to listen and volunteer. “I’m totally for J.D.,” said Kuhrt, who works at a Valero ethanol plant about a half hour away from here in Fort Dodge. “He’s not King.” A dozen more showed up at Early, Iowa, (pop. 523) later that night. Early is in King’s home county. It could scarcely be redder. Those are strong turnouts a year ahead of the election. They warmed to Scholten’s populist call for antitrust enforcement in agribusiness, universal health care and a fair shake for forgotten places. Their questions were about ethanol, rising health-care costs and rural development. Nothing about impeachment.

Scholten senses a wave. People are fed up with King, Trump and $12-an-hour jobs with a $5,000 deductible on the health plan, he says. Scholten thinks Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg will be duking it out to win the Iowa caucuses in February, “but it’s really still a wide-open field.” Buttigieg organizers attend each of his events, signaling that they intend to do battle along the rural routes. He invited all the presidential candidates on his tiny town tour, but only Cory Booker took him up on it.

“You win by getting out there and talking with people,” Scholten says. “I don’t bash Steve King at the convenience store. I talk about that tin cup on the counter to pay for somebody’s medical bills. We talk about how we are better than that.”

It seems to be working, when men with shotguns on gravel roads ask how they might help, and Dutch farmers swear they will not vote for Trump or his acolytes. There is unrest in the towns that Trump forgot.

Written by Art Cullen. Art Cullen is editor of the Storm Lake Times in Northwest Iowa. He is author of the book “Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper.”

Sioux City Journal: J.D. Scholten outraises Randy Feenstra, Steve King in latest quarter in Iowa 4th race

SIOUX CITY — Randy Feenstra moved past the half-million dollar mark in fundraising in his bid to unseat fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King. Meanwhile, J.D. Scholten, the sole Democrat in the Iowa 4th District race, scored the biggest campaign haul in the quarter.

Scholten, who is seeking the seat for a second time after losing to King by a surprising 3 percent in 2018, entered the race in August after the latest reporting period. For the three months ending Sept. 30, the Sioux Cityan raised $408,495. 

“This cycle, we picked up right where we left off. Our fundraising efforts mirrors the excitement in #IA04,” Scholten tweeted Wednesday morning.

Feenstra, a state senator from Hull, outraised King for the third period in a row. Feenstra raised $140,307 in the latest quarter, compared to just $62,145 for the nine-term incumbent.

“Despite being the 18-year incumbent, Steve King’s fundraising continues to falter. In fact, Congressman King’s fundraising fell 32 percent from last quarter,” Feenstra campaign manager Matt Leopold said in a statement. “The Feenstra campaign has a 10 times cash advantage over Steve King, a remarkable advantage for a challenger. Voters in the 4th District are ready for a change, ready for an effective conservative leader.”

A second GOP candidate, former Irwin Mayor Bret Richards, also had more revenue than King in the latest reporting period. But all but $13,079 of Irwin’s $115,000 total came from personal loans to his campaign.

“This quarterly report, combined with the grassroots support that allowed me to be the first candidate to qualify to be on the ballot, should leave no doubt that we are fully committed to winning,” Richards said in a statement.

Republican challenger Jeremy Taylor, a former state legislator from Sioux City, raised $39,030 during the quarter.

“We’re on pace to have the resources to win the primary and defeat J.D. Scholten next fall,” Michael Biundo, a general consultant for Taylor’s team, said in a statement. “As we’ve seen over and over again in Iowa, money doesn’t win elections, grassroots support does. We set out from day one to build a county-by-county grassroots organization, and we’re hitting the fundraising numbers we need to fully fund our campaign plan.”

The Federal Election Commission website Wednesday morning had no report listed for a fifth GOP candidate, Steve Reeder, an Arnolds Park businessman who launched his campaign less than two months ago.

Federal candidates were required to report their fundraising activity with the Federal Election Commission by Tuesday, covering fundraising from July 1 through Sept. 30.

King, an outspoken conservative who was stripped by GOP House leaders of his committee assignments in January after making comments about white supremacy and white nationalism, has never been a major fundraiser but has faced even greater challenges this cycle. The $61,803 he raised during the most recent quarter was the smallest sum among GOP incumbents.  

For the three months ending June 30, King raised $91,421, and spent nearly all of it. His $18,366 cash on hand on June 30 was the fifth smallest reserves among the 435 members of the House, according to OpenSecrets.org. The incumbent ended the most recent reporting period with $40,682 in the bank. 

To conserve cash, King spent just $39,283 during the period. And he did not list payroll expenses for his son and campaign chairman, Jeff King, or Jeff King’s wife, Lindsey, who also has previously been a paid campaign official. In the previous three-month period, Jeff and Lindsey King collectively were paid over $24,000.

Feenstra, who formally kicked off his campaign Tuesday night in Sioux Center, finished the June 1 to Sept. 30 period with $406,049 in the bank, while Scholten ended the quarter with $385,938 cash on hand.

Richards reported $89,400 left in cash on hand at the end of the quarter, while Taylor ended the period with $46,825 in the bank.

For the year, combined over three quarters, Feenstra’s revenues total $531,200, while King has brought in $221,798. Richards had total revenues of $185,859, of which $150,000 are loans. Taylor has brought in a combined $107,069 for the year. 

Written by Bret Hayworth