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Sioux City Journal: 6 weeks to election, Scholten, Feenstra aiming for finish line in Iowa’s 4th District

SIOUX CITY — Six weeks from now, the outcome of the Iowa 4th Congressional District contest will be revealed, with Nov. 3 voting determining whether Randy Feenstra will seize the win and continue the Republican Party hold on the seat or if J.D. Scholten pulls off the upset that narrowly eluded him in 2018.

At this point two years ago, campaign donations were flowing in large fashion to Scholten. A lot of people were motivated down the stretch to oust incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, after a flurry of questions about his support for far-right political parties and candidates.

Scholten is again the Democratic nominee in the 4th District, but King is out of the race, following his defeat by nearly 10 percent by Feenstra in a June primary election. Feenstra got a congratulatory phone call from President Donald Trump.

That primary win immediately moved many political prognosticators to predict a solid Feenstra victory in the fall. An Iowa Poll by The Des Moines Register over the weekend put Feenstra’s lead at 5 percentage points, and, for comparison, Scholten’s narrow loss to King was by 3 points.

“A lot of people wrote us off in early summer. We just put our head down,” said Scholten, who is bullish on his chances over the next 42 days.

“We are right where we need to be … Our internal poll showed we are doing even better than what the Des Moines Register poll showed,” he said.

Scholten said he believes he can win because “this district has a lot of independent thinkers.”

There are more independents than Democrats, as voting registration in the 4th District in September shows 203,921 Republicans, 128,750 Democrats and 153,416 no party, making for a big advantage for Feenstra. Feenstra said being a Republican in the 4th District is certainly an advantage, but he isn’t taking that for granted.

“We are trying to motivate the base. We are playing like we are 10 points behind,” he said.

Feenstra pointed to a Monmouth University Polling Institute measure, which in early August released a poll showing him with a 20-point lead.

King had never lost a race in his 24-year political career, until Feenstra, a state senator from Hull, won in the five-candidate primary. In a Journal interview on Friday, King said he would not endorse Feenstra, saying it was best not to comment on his campaign.

Said Feenstra, “I would appreciate it if he would endorse me … I guess it is up to him … We just want all the Republicans marching in the same direction.”

Earlier this year, spread of the novel coronavirus resulted in a halt to in-person campaigning, but some of that has resumed in recent weeks. Scholten has been holding “parking lot rallies,” where he stands on a flat-bed truck, his comments are broadcast via radio frequency to people parked at the event, and they can send text messages to pose questions. That’s part of his swing to visit all 374 towns in 39 counties, and, after one Tuesday in Jefferson, Iowa, Scholten said that quest will be done by early October.

Scholten said key issues he’s seeing connect with the pandemic, as people are worried about maintaining health insurance and hearing Republican plans to reduce Medicare and Medicaid programs. He also said farmers are uneasy after seven years of low commodity prices and tariffs that Trump put in place.

Feenstra spoke after touring a biodiesel plant in Wall Lake, Iowa. He said he’s visiting businesses using social distancing precautions and wearing masks. Some of the monthly county Republican Party organizations have resumed meetings in person, while many still only do them via video conferencing.

Feenstra said top issues are boosting agricultural opportunities and the prospects of small businesses, some of which have not reopened since the coronavirus brunt hit. He said it is imperative that pro-life policies are pursued.

“People are looking for somebody who can deliver or be a voice for them,” Feenstra said.

It is currently uncertain whether an opportunity for Iowans to see the two men hash over issues side by side, as of now there are no set debates. Scholten said his approach is “any time, any place,” and that a debate is needed, since people know Feenstra far less than they do King, after his 18 years in office.

For his part, Feenstra said there are some October media debate options, and he may agree to some: “We are looking at other arrangements.”

There won’t be a release of campaign fundraising until mid-October, for a quarterly summary for the months of July through September. 

This year, Scholten has led all Iowa 4th candidates in fundraising, such as when he raised $619,849 for the second quarter through the month of June. Feenstra brought in $403,817 over that same time. Combined over the 2020 cycle, Scholten has raised $1.65 million, while Feenstra has had $1.25 million in contributions.

Scholten said his third quarter fundraising number will surpass that of the second quarter, and said people who believe his 2020 funding will pale compared to 2018 are misguided.

A December 2018 fundraising report showed Scholten raised more than $1.5 million from Oct. 19 to Nov. 26, just before and after the election day showdown with King.

Feenstra said Scholten may not nab the top amount of fundraising of the 2018 final stretch, since “the dynamics have changed significantly over the last two years.” As for his fundraising, Feenstra said, “We are looking at a very strong quarter again … We are trying to get as much in-state money as possible.”