Congressional candidate J.D. Scholten parked his RV behind the Farm Grounds Coffee Shop on Main Street in Nevada for an intimate question-and-answer event with potential voters.
The two-time U.S. House candidate continued his tour around Iowa’s 4th District on Saturday, even as many in Story County have already opted to vote early. Seven attendees asked Scholten questions on health care, the Supreme Court and his electability in a traditionally conservative district.
Luke Spence, who sits on the Nevada City Council, put together events like this during the most recent Iowa Caucus cycle, drawing the participation of 10 different presidential candidates. This year, he brought Coffee with the Candidates back to generate buzz around November’s down-ballot contests, including candidates for the Story County Board of Supervisors and those vying for the statehouse.
“Why not keep it going with the local elections, which draw smaller crowds,” Spence posed. “Candidates have more intimate conversations with the voters and the voters get to kick the tires on candidates.”
Scholten came within 4 percentage points of beating U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in 2018. President Donald Trump won this district by 27 points.
King lost the June primary to state Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, after nine terms in office.
Feenstra, a Dordt University professor who’s serving his third term at the statehouse, has much the same platform as King, without the controversy. Feenstra bills himself as a pro-life, pro-gun Republican who plans to fight to keep Trump’s tax cuts and end illegal immigration.
He is also a supporter of ethanol fuel and eliminating the grain bin tax. He has been endorsed by the president, the Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa Corn Growers Association.
Most of the voters at Saturday’s event worried most about the country’s health-care system and Americans’ social safety net.
“We’re retired, so Medicare and Social Security are actually being threatened by the Republicans,” Nevada resident Lan Wallin told Scholten. “That’s a chief concern for me.”
Scholten said his goal is universal health care, but a robust public option in the next step.
“We pay more than any country in the world and we aren’t getting a very good bang for our buck,” Scholten said.
Don Seaton, a Story County resident, asked Scholten what support for him looks like on the district’s conservative north side. Scholten said moves like his refusal to accept DCCC funding give him a non-establishment edge that resonates with former King supporters.
Scholten’s views on health care, however, do not align with most conservatives.
“I don’t necessarily plan on winning up there, but I plan on completing,” he told those gathered.
Another participant asked Scholten about the potential new make-up of the Supreme Court, as the U.S. Senate plans to vote to confirm Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, next week. The attendee asked if Scholten would support changing the composition of the court.
“I think one of the things we need for the nation is to depoliticize the Supreme Court,” Scholten said. “We should not have these knock-out fights every time there’s an opening.”
His favorite idea to come out of the caucus cycles, Scholten said, belonged to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who proposed having three Republican-appointed judges and three Democrat-appointed judges who must unanimously agree on the appointments to fill out the remainder of the court’s bench.
Scholten, who ventured on a 39-county tour in 2018, is following a similar style two years later, visiting each of the 4th District’s 374 towns before Oct. 5. This time around, Scholten drove all 7,786 miles.
“One thing is we try to do it in a very respectful way,” Scholten said, acknowledging concerns around the pandemic. “In a way that keeps people safe but also my staff safe.”
Scholten’s team plans to make a stop in Ames on Wednesday, where attendees will be asked to remain in their cars while listening to Scholten address the crowd over the phone or online.
The next Coffee with the Candidates event will host incumbent Rep. Dave Deyoe 9 a.m. Oct. 31 at the Farm Grounds Coffee Shop.