During a week consumed with furious arguments over the president’s racist tweets about members of Congress, it’s as good a time as any to check in on the fortunes of a member of Congress with the rare distinction of regularly trumping Trump in expressions of racism: Iowa’s Steve King. In case you’ve forgotten about the old bigot, he was stripped of his seniority and committee assignments by House Republican leaders early this year after telling the New York Times he saw nothing wrong with being a “white supremacist.” As I observed soon afterward, “It’s tough getting yourself denounced for racism by today’s Republican Party.” But then again, King had been working on it for many years, mostly in the context of his successful mission to become the most strident nativist in an increasingly nativist party.
National Republicans would just as soon hand King an anvil and show him the nearest cliff. But he’s not going away quietly and is running for a tenth term in the House in his very conservative fourth district of Iowa. He is not, however, doing very well on the fundraising front, as the Des Moines Register noted after second-quarter reports came in:
King raised a total of almost $92,000 this period and ends the quarter with about $18,000 on hand.
In comparison, [primary opponent Randy] Feenstra raised $140,000 in the second quarter and ended it with almost $340,000 on hand.
Feenstra is a prominent state senator who is generally regarded as King’s toughest opponent among the three who are currently in the race. He is running not so much against King’s racism as against the loss of clout the state and district have suffered thanks to the incumbent’s disgrace, which is probably smart in a district where Donald Trump won 61 percent of the vote in 2016. But then again, even Trump is keeping his distance from King so far, as the Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor recently observed:
When Trump traveled to Iowa [in early June] for a state party fund-raiser and a speech in Council Bluffs, King was not invited to fly on Air Force One nor publicly recognized by Trump while he was in the state. Republicans say that conservative activists have waned on King as well and aren’t coming to his defense.
Still, it would be unwise to write King off just yet. The GOP primary isn’t until next June, and unless the field of candidates shrinks, there’s a chance no one will win the 35 percent necessary in Iowa to avoid a nominating convention, which would likely be dominated by grassroots King supporters. He also has a reputation as a late bloomer when it comes to fund-raising and campaigning generally and has constantly been thought to be “in trouble” (e.g., in 2012, when former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack was his Democratic opponent) only to over-perform when the deal went down. But it’s also possible he has lost a step: In 2018, after a campaign dominated by discussion of his pithy views regarding the Lesser Breeds, King came within three points of losing to an actual Democrat, J.D. Scholten, who outspent the incumbent by nearly a four-to-one margin.
National Democrats would very much like Scholten for an encore in 2020, but he’s instead eyeing a Senate race against Joni Ernst (even as Chuck Schumer tries to clear the field for another candidate, Theresa Greenfield) — probably because the presidential race could make the fourth district a tougher climb than in 2018, and possibly because, if King loses his primary, the general election will be all but unwinnable for a Democrat (barring some third-party run by the incumbent on the White Supremacist ticket).
No matter what, 2020 is going to be a big political year in Iowa. There is, of course, the Democratic Presidential Caucuses, plus at least three competitive House races, a potentially competitive Senate race, and a presidential general election in which the state is looking more interesting given Trump’s poor approval ratio (a ratio of 42:55, according to the latest measurement from Morning Consult). If King wins renomination, all four of Iowa’s House seats could be up for grabs in November. And if King loses, the skies over Iowa will be rid of at least one source of toxic hot air.