One of the close-but-no-cigar Democratic candidacies in the wave election of 2018 happened in the deeply Republican Fourth Congressional District of Iowa. Novice candidate J.D. Scholten came within three points of knocking off legendary nativist Steve King. Scholten, a moderate Democrat, outspent the incumbent by a more than three-to-one margin, and barnstormed through the district in an RV, even as King was augmenting his already bulging file of press clippings documenting his racist and anti-immigrant stylings.
Early this year, after his reelection, King made infamous comments to the New York Times claiming there was nothing wrong with being a white supremacist, and finally his party leadership stripped him of his committee assignments. It’s hard to be condemned for excessive xenophobia and racism in Donald Trump’s GOP, but King managed it.
Unsurprisingly, given Iowa’s status as a place that places a high value on the clout of its congressional delegation, King quickly drew multiple primary challenges. One opponent, state senator Randy Feenstra, is raising a lot more money than King (including a contribution from former multi-term Republican governor and Trump ambassador to China Terry Branstad) and drawing some key endorsements (e.g., from former King ally and Christian right kingmaker Bob Vander Plaats).
No one familiar with him or his district is ruling out a King victory, as I noted earlier this year:
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 fundraising 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 overperform when the deal went down.
But if King survives the intraparty challenge, he will then face a rematch with Scholten, who announced his candidacy via this corn-fed video narrated by Field of Dreams star Kevin Costner:
Scholten was talked into a second Fourth District race after his interest in a challenge to Joni Ernst was discouraged by national Democrats who had settled on Theresa Greenfield as their Senate candidate. He is counting on a primary win by the old demagogue, since it’s very unlikely Feenstra or any other Republican would have trouble holding the district (where the GOP holds a sizable registration advantage) in a presidential year. Donald Trump won the Fourth by a 61/34 margin in 2016.
If King is his opponent, Scholten can certainly bank on robust fundraising opportunities again, and could build his campaign around Republican condemnations of King and the influence the state and district lost when he ran his filthy mouth one time too many. This weekend’s display of the consequences of nativist and racist rhetoric will serve as a reminder that Steve King is no harmless crank.