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.