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Storm Lake Times: Editor’s Notebook

Many turned their attention from the Fourth Congressional District after Randy Feenstra beat incumbent Rep. Steve King in the June Republican primary, thinking that the story is written.

Far from it, says Democratic opponent JD Scholten. He makes a strong argument about why you should pay attention:

An internal poll commissioned by Scholten two weeks ago showed the Sioux City paralegal in a “statistical dead heat” with Feenstra, a state senator from Hull. Scholten has more than $1 million in the bank and says fundraising is going well. He has raised more than any Democratic who has run. He is outraising Feenstra, who just accepted $2,500 from Smithfield Foods, a subsidiary of China. Scholten calls him “Corporate Randy.”

Scholten declined to reveal many details from the poll, other than to say that it confirms a Des Moines Register-Mediacom Iowa Poll that shows a generic Democrat trailing a generic Republican by 22 percentage points. But when names are attached, Scholten jumps into a dead heat, he said.

“This is about as good a place as we could hope to be,” said Scholten, who came within three percentage points of King, R-Kiron, in the 2018 midterm election.

That showing prompted a crowded June Republican primary that saw Feenstra easily defeat King. And that led many to write off Scholten’s prospects against a state senator in such a heavily Republican district. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which said it would jump into this race last winter, now is not quick to return Scholten’s calls. And that’s okay by him.

“What else do I have to prove? The polls suggest that they like me but they don’t like Democrats here,” Scholten said.

Scholten said his message on restoring rural opportunity, decent jobs and improved health care access polls well among independent and disaffected Republican voters.

Recent polling by Rural Organizing, a progressive group, shows that Biden is in a dead heat with Trump among rural and exurban Iowa voters, and that Theresa Greenfield has a two-point lead over Republican Sen. Joni Ernst among this cohort. Scholten says that Biden two weeks ago was behind by 13 points in the Fourth District.

“If Biden gets that down to single digits, it’s game on,” Scholten said, “because we have shown that we punch above our weight. We will outperform the presidential ticket.”

Biden declared last weekend that Iowa is “a critical battleground state.” That’s music to Scholten’s ears.

Trump and Ernst have done nothing but fall in the polls for three years. That’s a lot of weight on Feenstra, who eagerly supported Trump.

Scholten said he is still trying to figure out how to campaign down the stretch in the pandemic era. One idea: drive-in rallies. Scholten bought a radio transmitter so voters can stop in the parking lot and listen to him stump.

“It’s an idea,” he said.

He has a lot of goodwill built up by campaigning so hard last fall in towns under 1,000 population in his heavily used Winnebago, Sioux City Sue, and from his previous campaign against King.

Those who write him off are not his concern. He believes he connects with the populist undertone that King was able to tap, albeit with a racist flair. Scholten polishes the other side of that penny with a stridently progressive campaign centered around economic issues: health care, the power of huge corporations and dark money. He says rural people are tired of watching their grocery stores and hospitals close and seeing their fortunes vanish. The best blue-collar jobs pay $18 per hour. Their frustration is what led to Steve King. Scholten says he is the alternative to another corporate hired man. His campaign has legs that should not be underestimated. When Joe Biden leads in multiple polls of Texas, something is happening that makes all things political possible.

Written by Art Cullen