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N’West Iowa: J.D. Scholten again challenging Steve King

REGIONAL—J.D. Scholten came too close to give up now.

After months of speculation, the Sioux City man officially confirmed Monday he would run on the 2020 Democratic ticket to represent Iowa’s 4th Congressional District and again challenge U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Kiron).

With the Dickinson County Democrats’ Summer Sizzler in Spirit Lake taking place today (Wednesday, Aug. 7) and the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding Friday in Clear Lake, Scholten noted the time was right to announce.

“We’ve been planning this launch for a little bit and it’s gone really well,” he said.

Although he lost to King in November’s general election, Scholten gave the nine-term incumbent the closest race of his career.

“After the election, we saw how much we moved the needle, which was 24 points after the presidential race of 2016 to our race, which was the third-most in the nation amongst all challengers,” Scholten said.

A big part of his previous campaign was holding town halls and events in all 39 counties in the 4th Congressional District, a philosophy Scholten will again embrace.

“You saw what getting out there to all 39 counties (did),” he said. “It really created a movement — it really did. Right after the election, we did a thank-you tour just because there were so many people who gave it their all — our volunteers — and the overwhelming message was ‘Don’t give up.’”

Those words inspired Scholten, who spent plenty of time in “Sioux City Sue” — his campaign’s recreational vehicle — driving across Iowa’s largest congressional district and sleeping in Walmart parking lots during the race.

“I’m not the type of person who usually runs; being a working-class candidate, it’s a grind and the system is not meant for people like myself,” Scholten said.

No longer a political newcomer or outsider, Scholten called it a night and a day difference in announcing this time around.

“The last time we launched, we barely got any press. Now today, we got a bunch of folks calling in nonstop,” Scholten said.

As part of his announcement, Scholten released a 90-second campaign video narrated by actor/director Kevin Costner.

Being an Iowa native and former minor league baseball player, Scholten has watched “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams” quite a bit, so he was honored Costner was willing to be part of his campaign.

“It’s kind of a dream come true,” Scholten said. “Our video last time was kind of, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ and he saw that and felt that this was the right fit for him. I appreciate him stepping out and doing a political ad for us.”

Just like the last race, Scholten says he plans to focus on issues.

One of his big passions is agriculture and a reason he wants to run is to help farmers. Before she died, Scholten’s grandmother asked him to take care of the family farm.

“You look around — especially up in your neck of the woods — farmers have their back against the wall and it’s whether you are a corn grower, a pork producer, just anything, it’s hard to make a profit in farming now,” he said.

“You see of the consumer dollar, less than 15 cents makes it back to the farmer, which is lowest all-time. We need to find markets and protect our farmers from agriculture monopolies and it’s one of those things where even (U.S. Sen.) Chuck Grassley talks about it, but Steve King never does.”

Although King is the incumbent, he does have three challengers in the GOP primary: Randy Feenstra of Hull, Jeremy Taylor of Sioux City and Bruce Richards of Irwin.

Scholten is ready to face any of them.

“Our message is about getting out there to the people and going to all 39 counties and talking about us and what we can do rather than just bashing the other side,” he said.

“So much of politics now — modern politics — it drives me insane. I’m not here to bash Republicans or anybody who disagrees with me. I’m here to have a debate and talk about earning votes.”

Reaction to Scholten entering race drew immediate rebuke from the Republican Party of Iowa chairman Jeff King as well as from the GOP candidates already in the race.

“The people of the fourth district have already rejected Scholten’s out-of-touch agenda once,” King said. “Now he’s running with 2020 Democrats who embrace socialist policies like the Green New Deal and government-run health care, which would require historic tax hikes that would bankrupt farms and businesses in the fourth district. Given Scholten’s failure and lack of new ideas, perhaps he should look into other jobs besides running for office.”

Feenstra tweeted an article about Scholten’s announcement and said the district “must nominate an effective conservative leader that will WIN in November.” Taylor called Scholten out of touch with Iowans because of ability “to enlist his Hollywood allies to speak for him.”

However, Scholten also garnered some endorsements. Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand, who also made it a point to campaign in Republican strongholds during his 2018 campaign, came out in support of his fellow Democrat.

In his endorsement, first shared with The N’West Iowa REVIEW and, Sand explained why he supported Scholten.

“J.D. is a friend, a man of faith, and a man whom the 4th district can trust. I was encouraged in 2018 to see so many Republicans put the public ahead of their party by supporting J.D. and me and believe enough more will be willing to do so in ’20,” he said.

“I think it’s about time we get a 4th district representative on the agriculture committee and bring some Iowa values to DC.”

Ty Rushing  Aug 7, 2019

The Ames Tribune: Scholten returns to campaign trail for second run in Iowa’s 4th

J.D. Scholten said he decided to run again in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District because he feels as if he has “unfinished business.”

The Sioux City Democrat who was born in Ames announced his candidacy on Monday and began hitting the campaign trail immediately. On Tuesday he sat down with the Ames Tribune ahead of an evening rally at Mother’s Pub in Ames.

Scholten said part of his decision to run was the result of looking back at his 2018 campaign, which ended with a 3.3 percentage point loss to Republican incumbent Steve King.

“I committed 16 months of my life to running a campaign and doing something that had never been done before, and we were rewarded with moving the needle 24 points,” Scholten said. “What was really interesting is, politics is a zero sum game, but we’re in this weird middle ground where we lost, but we did so much and changed the narrative of this district that there’s been this cloud over us for a long time. Ultimately, we built something and there’s unfinished business.”

He said the infrastructure from his 2018 race is intact, and “we’re starting where we left off and what I’ve seen the past two days has been remarkable.”


He talked about what he believes is King’s increased vulnerability following the controversies surrounding the congressman’s statements about white supremacy and nationalism in an interview with the New York Times, and the subsequent stripping of his committee assignments by House leadership.

“We have to call out racism where it’s at, we need to call out hatred where it’s at, it’s becoming too common place in America right now,” he said.

Scholten said the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and others that have happened before them, only strengthens his revolve to do what’s needed to help reduce the risk of similar tragedies in the future.

“There’s this narrative that it’s either the Second Amendment or gun safety, but there’s a lot of ground where we can work here,” he said. “When 97 percent of Americans want universal background checks, but when 97 percent of Americans want something and Congress doesn’t do it, that’s a failure of our democracy.”

Scholten said he would fight to get rid of special interests that control national policy, and that influence is why universal background checks haven’t been implemented.

“We need to clean up Washington, and it goes with all the corruption … that’s where the root of the problem is,” Scholten said.

Scholten also reiterated his positions on revitalizing rural communities, a Medicare for all healthcare policy, and fixing the nation’s immigration system.

On revitalizing rural Iowa, Scholten said more needs to be done to draw good jobs that pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year to rural Iowa. He cited a drop in the number of graduates from Iowa State University in high-tech fields staying in Iowa.

“We need a lot more of that, we need it in Sioux City, we need it in Fort Dodge, we need it in Mason City, that is where the future of the Iowa economy is, it’s in technology and agriculture technology,” he said.

With Iowa’s 4th District being the second most agriculture producing district in the country, the tariffs that have been imposed as part of the trade war with China not only are having a negative impact on Iowa producers, but those costs will be passed on the consumer, too, Scholten said.

“We need a leader in D.C. that’s fighting for this district and fighting for the farmers, and you see the vulnerability of King with having a primary,” he said.

Three Republicans, state Sen. Randy Feenstra, former Irwin Mayor Bret Richards and former state Rep. Jeremy Taylor have all announced they will challenge King in a primary next year.

On immigration reform, Scholten said the country’s immigration system needs to be fixed if the state’s economy is expected to grow.

“We need immigration reform because we need the workers,” Scholten said.

Scholten said one of top issues he hears from voters in the 4th District is finding workers to fill vacant positions, and that commonsense reform is needed to streamline the path toward citizenship.

“The system is just broke,” Scholten said. “We haven’t had comprehensive immigration reform since 1986, a lot has changed since then, we can modernize a lot of things … we just need to find a way to come together, and there is an avenue to get things done now.”

Despite everything, healthcare remains the No. 1 issue for voters, Scholten said.

He said too many people remain uninsured or under-insured, and too many people continue to struggle to pay their medical bills. Scholten said there are too many collection cans set out at convenience stores to help raise money for families who are struggling, and too many GoFundMe accounts set up to help people pay medical bills.

“I think our goal is Medicare for all, but I think it’s going to take steps to get there,” Scholten said.

But he acknowledged that he’s open to other options.

“I’m also to the point where .. whatever works, as long as we have a system that gets rid of those donation boxes, I’m almost 99 percent sure I’d vote for it.”

By Michael Crumb, Editor
Posted Aug 6, 2019 at 4:53 PM
Updated Aug 6, 2019 at 10:17 PM

Iowa State Daily: Scholten seeks to keep, grow base of support at Iowa State

J.D. Scholten’s second bid for a seat in Congress follows a close loss to Rep. Steve King, R-Storm Lake, in 2018.

Nearly 19% of the votes Scholten received in the 2018 election came from Story County, where there are tens of thousands of students at Iowa State. From the 2014 midterm elections, there was a 10% increase in the number of 18-29 year olds who turned out to vote, up to 31%— the highest level youth voter turnout has been in decades.

In a phone interview, Scholten said he hopes he can keep the enthusiasm among young voters high.

“I mean that’s absolutely part of our goal, and I think having a cycle … of experience in us, I think we want to take some of the lessons we learned, and … not only keep the base, but expand the base at Iowa State,” Scholten said.

On the cost of attending Iowa State, the candidate said he doesn’t think “a college like Iowa State should cost more than what you can make at a summer job.”

“We need to make Iowa State affordable for everyone so everybody can have the opportunity to gain the education that they desire,” Scholten said.

Scholten ran the closest race of any Democrat who has ever run against King for Congress, improving on Christie Vilsack’s 8% loss to him in 2012.

Despite coming within 4% of defeating King in the midterm elections, however, Scholten faces an uphill battle to win Iowa’s 4th Congressional District this time around.

Mack Shelley, Iowa State professor and chair of the political science department, said “there is a pretty good chance [King] will not survive the primary, given the fundraising … particularly by [Sen.] Randy Feenstra.”

Shelley added he believes Feenstra would have a better chance of holding the district for Republicans than King, though Democrats “are quite likely to infuse top dollars” as the seat presents a “potential pickup opportunity.”

Feenstra issued a statement after Scholten entered the race, saying King nearly “handed” the district to Scholten in the 2018 race, adding Republican primary voters need to nominate “an effective conservative that will win in November,” and calling himself “an effective conservative that will win in November.”

Scholten said he believes he can win the race regardless of who his opponent is.

“I’m going at this race just like I did when I was a minor league baseball pitcher, and it didn’t matter who the opponent was, I was going to pitch my game and pitch to my strengths,” Scholten said. “[W]e did a town hall in all 39 counties [in the district] last time — if anybody showed up to it — you would know we didn’t really talk much about Steve King, we [talked about] what we’re for.”

With Iowa’s status as the first state to vote in the Democratic primary calendar, the race has received attention from several Democratic presidential candidates since Scholten’s entry.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., tweeted Scholten “has already proven he can bring people together.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., tweeted “Today especially, I’m reminded just how important it is we elect people the highest moral character to represent us — people like [Scholten].”

Scholten said he is very grateful his message has been amplified on social media by 2020 candidates, but “at the end of the day it’s about us getting in Sioux City Sue and driving all over the district and earning votes regardless of whether you’re Republican, Democrat or Independent.”

By Jake Webster,, @jakedavewebster
Aug 6, 2019

Omaha World-Herald: Democrat J.D. Scholten is taking a second run at unseating Iowa Rep. Steve King

WASHINGTON — Former Husker baseball pitcher J.D. Scholten plans to make another run at unseating Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

Scholten, a Democrat, said in a campaign statement that too many Iowa families feel like they are suffering and the government doesn’t have their interests at heart.

He cited the need to address health care and economic equality.

“We need a system that works for all people — not just special interests and those who are lucky enough to be at the top,” he said.

Scholten also released a launch video heavy on shots of fields and livestock, with narration by actor Kevin Costner.

Scholten fell just a few percentage points short in his 2018 bid against King — the closest a Democrat has come to winning a congressional race in northwest Iowa in a long time.

King’s hard-line rhetoric, particularly on matters related to Western civilization and illegal immigration, has long created headaches for the Republican Party.

He was formally rebuked by the House earlier this year — and lost his committee assignments — due to statements about white supremacy he made to the New York Times.

Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann notably made no mention of King in his own statement responding to Scholten’s launch.

Scholten sought in his previous campaign to avoid getting tied up in national politics, but it’s clear that Republicans will try again to tie him to left-leaning elements of the Democratic Party.

In his statement, Kaufmann invoked national Democrats and their talk about a “Green New Deal,” government health care and tax increases.

It’s not clear who Scholten could be facing next year given that King already has attracted multiple primary challengers.

Federal Election Commission records show that three of those challengers actually finished the most recent reporting period with more cash on hand than King.

As of June 30, the incumbent’s campaign coffers had just $18,366 cash on hand while the best-funded GOP challenger, State Sen. Randy Feenstra, reported having $337,314 cash on hand.

Feenstra touted his fundraising advantage and high-profile endorsements in a campaign statement on Monday. Feenstra said Scholten’s candidacy underscores the need to nominate him rather than King.

“The families of Iowa’s 4th District deserve an effective conservative leader who can win and ensure our voice and our values are represented in Congress,” Feenstra said in the statement.

By Joseph Morton / World-Herald Bureau  Aug 6, 2019

TheAmes Tribune: Scholten announces he’s running again in Iowa’s 4th

Nearly nine months to the day since J.D. Scholten narrowly lost to incumbent Republican Congressman Steve King in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, Scholten announced Monday he was throwing his hat into the ring again in an effort to oust the nine-term congressman.

Scholten defeated two other Democrats in a June 2018 primary to earn the party’s nomination to challenge King in the November mid-term election. He lost that race by just over 3 percentage points. After saying he was reviewing his options and his path forward, Scholten made it clear on Monday that path would take him into a another race against King. So far, he’s the only Democrat to announce a bid for the party’s nomination in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, which covers 39 counties, all which Scholten covered while traveling in his brightly colored, red, white and blue RV he called Sioux City Sue.

“We’re building a people-powered campaign that is focused on meeting with, listening to, and earning the trust and support of voters in all 39 counties in Iowa’s 4th district,” Scholten said in an early morning announcement of his candidacy. “This time, we’re going to get the job done.”

He said in the announcement that, too many Iowa families “feel like they’re getting kicked in the dirt, suffering from an economy and a government that just doesn’t have their interests at heart.

“We need a system that works for all people — not just special interests and those who are lucky enough to be at the top,” Scholten said. “That’s exactly why we’re in this fight: to fix our healthcare system, fight for an economy for all, and secure our democracy. The 4th district deserves a voice in Washington that understands these issues and will fight day in and day out to revitalize our rural communities.”

His announcement was accompanied by a video narrated by actor Kevin Costner. That was followed by a rally in his hometown of Sioux City Monday night. He plans to travel throughout the district, including a stopped scheduled for 9 p.m. Tuesday night at Mother’s Pub, 2900 West St., in Ames.

The Ames Tribune has an interview scheduled with Scholten, who was born in Ames, ahead of that event.

King, who has come under fire for his anti-immigrant rhetoric is facing a primary challenge from three Republicans; state Sen. Randy Feenstra, former state Rep. Jeremy Taylor, and former Irwin Mayor Brent Richards.

King was criticized after last fall’s election by state and national GOP leaders for comments he made about white supremacy and nationalism in an interview with the New York Times. He was later stripped of his congressional committee assignments.

Scholten received an early endorsement Monday from the political action committee, Democracy for America.

“In this race, Iowans have the opportunity to replace one of the most racist and divisive members of Congress with a leader who will fight for an economy that puts the interests of farmers and working families ahead of Wall Street, healthcare that puts people before profits, and an immigration system rooted in justice and compassion,” said Yvette Simpson, the group’s CEO in an emailed statement.

By Tribune staff
Posted Aug 5, 2019 at 5:16 PM
Updated Aug 5, 2019 at 8:34 PM

The New York Times: J.D. Scholten Almost Beat Steve King in 2018. Now He’s Running Again.

J. D. Scholten, a Democrat who nearly toppled Representative Steve King of Iowa in a heavily Republican district in 2018, announced on Monday that he would run again for the seat in 2020. His decision sets up a possible rematch with Mr. King, whose history of racist remarks has made him a pariah among Republican leaders, though not always with voters.

“Last time, we were hoping to win,” Mr. Scholten said in an interview before the announcement. “Now, we are expecting to win. We know how to do it.”

Mr. King was stripped of his congressional committee assignments this year by House Republicans, after he questioned why white nationalism was offensive. He later said he had nothing to apologize for and would run in 2020 for a 10th term in his deeply conservative district in northwest Iowa.

If he survives a primary challenge next year, Mr. King will appear on the same ballot as President Trump, whose nativism and anti-immigrant remarks Mr. King long foreshadowed. In Mr. King’s Fourth District, which Mr. Trump won by nearly 30 points, voters in the past have either agreed with or overlooked Mr. King’s divisive language about Latino migrants, who sustain much of the agricultural economy there.

“Having Steve King have a voice in Congress, I think that’s at the root of why I feel it’s so important to get him out of office,” Mr. Scholten said.

Mr. Scholten, a former minor league baseball player and a fifth-generation Iowan, said he would once again crisscross the 39 counties of the largely rural district in an R.V., overnighting in Walmart parking lots, while engaging with voters about health care, agriculture and getting corporate money out of politics.

Mr. Scholten, 39, weighed running against Senator Joni Ernst, a potentially vulnerable Republican, but learned in June that national Democrats, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, were backing a different challenger, Theresa Greenfield.

“Ultimately, I would have a tough time abandoning what we were able to accomplish and watch Steve King get re-elected if I were to run in that race,” Mr. Scholten said over the weekend. “And, I mean, the Fourth District is where my heart’s at.”

Iowa will be in the political spotlight next year, not just for its presidential caucuses in February, but also because it will feature competitive races up and down the ballot in November, for the Senate and all four of its congressional seats.

To win re-election, Mr. King must first defeat three primary challengers, most prominently Randy Feenstra, a state senator who has outraised him with the support of the Republican establishment. Mr. King brought in just $91,000 in the quarter ending in June, compared with Mr. Feenstra’s $140,000.

Money, however, has never mattered much in Mr. King’s re-elections. He has nearly universal name recognition in his district, and, until recently, voters broadly embraced his pugnacious personality and positions on bedrock conservative issues like abortion and gun rights.

Mr. Scholten, who outspent Mr. King nearly four to one in 2018, came within three percentage points of unseating him after the congressman endorsed a candidate for Toronto mayor with neo-Nazi ties and, in an interview with an Austrian publication that surfaced late in the race, seemed to endorse the “Great Replacement,” a conspiracy theory espoused by white supremacists.

In January, in an interview with The New York Times, Mr. King said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

House Republican leaders removed him from the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees, while Mr. King defended himself by saying his remarks had been taken out of context.

More recently, in town-hall-style events with constituents, he has claimed he did not utter the words as quoted.

Many Democratic politicians issued fresh condemnations of white nationalism over the weekend after at least 29 people were killed in mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, and some placed a portion of the blame on Mr. Trump’s remarks. The authorities said they were investigating the El Paso shooting as a possible hate crime.

“Words have consequences,” Mr. Scholten said when asked about the shootings. “The hatred and racism that has become too commonplace in our country does fuel violence.”

Despite his yearslong history of racist remarks, Mr. King was rebuked by Republican leaders only recently. Senator Ernst denounced Mr. King this year, but she has campaigned with him in the past, eager for the support of his voters in the state’s most conservative region.

Should Mr. Feenstra or one of the other primary challengers emerge as the nominee, Republicans would quite likely have an easier time against Mr. Scholten without Mr. King’s baggage.

If Mr. King wins the nomination, Mr. Scholten would have to win the votes of many Republicans and unaffiliated voters to defeat the congressman in a district where active registered Republicans greatly outnumber Democrats. Mr. Scholten lost to Mr. King by about 10,000 votes last year, out of 313,000 cast.

“We got 24,000 more votes last time than there are Democrats in the district,” Mr. Scholten said. “I have to do even better than that this time.”

Strategists for both parties in Iowa said they would still consider Mr. King the favorite if he became the nominee.

“Republicans in the Fourth District have not yet indicated they’ve had enough” of Mr. King, said Kurt Meyer, a Democratic county chairman in the First District. “If a Democratic candidate for president runs strong in Iowa, there’s maybe a one-in-three chance we take him out.”

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.”