On Tuesday, Democratic voters in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District will choose which candidate will challenge incumbent Republican Congressman Steve King in November.
King has his own primary challenger in Cyndi Hanson, of Sioux City, but she has never risen to be a serious challenge to unseat the eight-term congressman from Kiron.
So we turn our attention to the three Democrats who hope to win Tuesday and take their shots at the controversial King, who has made headlines far more frequently for his racist, anti-immigrant comments than for any legislation he has introduced.
The three Democrats vying to appear on the ballot with King in the fall are Ames pediatrician John Paschen, Sioux City paralegal and former baseball player J.D. Scholten and Spencer City Councilwoman and business owner Leann Jacobsen.
All three sat down with the Ames Tribune’s Reader Advisory Board recently for hour-long conversations.
On the issues, for the most part, they could be clones. They all support single-payer health care plans and eventually universal health care.
They all support reasonable immigration reform that would provide clearer and less-cumbersome paths to citizenship.
Ditto on gun reform. They all agree something needs to be done to stop the seemingly growing level of carnage we’ve seen over the past year. They say they don’t want to take anyone’s guns away, but they do want to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.
Being a pediatrician, Paschen spoke eloquently about the need to improve the Affordable Care Act, acknowledging its shortfalls, and about the need to ensure everyone is covered. He supports a ban on assault rifles and a buy-back program that would pay gunowners who turn in unused or unwanted weapons.
Jacobsen’s primary focus is revitalizing Iowa’s small, rural communities to make them places for innovation that attract young people who may otherwise leave for bigger cities or leave Iowa altogether.
Scholten is pretty much lock-step on the issues with Paschen and Jacobsen but said his connections to agriculture (his family has a farm in the district) makes him a more relatable candidate and more appealing to conservative and independent voters. And being from Sioux City, the largest community in the district, won’t hurt, he said. He believes if he can carry Woodbury County (where Sioux City is located) with 55 percent of the vote, he can win the 4th.
All three candidates are nice, intelligent, talented people who want to do what’s best for the state of Iowa.
So how does one choose?
In a Congressional district that leans overwhelmingly Republican, it would appear a Democrat doesn’t stand a chance. There are 118,000 registered Democrats, 191,000 registered Republicans and 175,000 registered as no party in Iowa’s sprawling, 39-county 4th District.
Even a popular former Iowa first lady and a young, energetic military veteran who outfundraised the incumbent failed to unseat King in previous elections.
With the candidates all lining up on the issues, the question we kept coming back to was who has the best chance of beating a conservative in a heavily conservative district?
It’s not a factor we feel completely comfortable basing our decision. Our board members were generally impressed with all three candidates.
But we believe Scholten’s ground game and political infrastructure gives him the best shot to beat King in November.
Scholten’s campaign frequently boasts about its fundraising and how it has outraised King. It has, raising $484,056 in the current election cycle to King’s $440,954, according to the Federal Election Commission, but so did Jim Mowrer, the military veteran from Boone, in 2014. He got shellacked by King. So we don’t believe fundraising, at least in the 4th District, is a good indicator of victory.
Scholten also shows he is engaged with those who are following his campaign. He has a booming social media presence with more than 56,000 Twitter followers. How much does that really matter? Maybe not much, as many of those followers are from outside Iowa who won’t have a voice in the election, but it does show that Scholten is reaching out to as many people possible.
He’s also working to connect to potential voters personally, traveling across the district in his RV.
“You can’t fake showing up,” he told our board.
We found him to be energetic, smart and disarming in ways that could help bridge the divide for some conservatives and maybe, just maybe, tip the scales in his favor.
Paschen, as much as we liked him (and we liked him a lot), is from Ames, and we felt that could be a liability in Iowa’s 4th District as Ames is one of its few Democratic strongholds.
We also liked Jacobsen and her strong advocacy for rural community development. And that’s important. After all, rural communities make up most of the 4th District.
But we felt Scholten is the Democrats’ best hope for beating King.
King has been in Washington too long and accomplished too little. It’s time for voters in Iowa’s 4th District to do what’s right and make a change, and we believe that could begin with Scholten on Tuesday.