Sometimes in politics all the noise of campaigning is drowned out by the clucking of chickens coming home to roost. That may be the case in northeast Iowa, where everybody’s favorite bigot, Congressman Steve King, was thought to be looking a little toasty after being stripped of his congressional committee assignments in January of last year by House Republican leaders who got fed up with the exuberance of his white-nationalist sympathies. His fellow Iowa Republicans didn’t rush to his defense, either, as I noted a bit later:
Iowa Republicans, including both U.S. senators and Governor Kim Reynolds, joined in condemning King, who for years strode through Iowa GOP politics as an iconic, if always edgy, figure of angry conservatism. These pooh-bahs sent an implicit signal to ambitious Republican pols in King’s conservative district that taking him out in a 2020 primary would be a welcome development.
Unsurprisingly, four Republican challengers entered the race to defenestrate King, with State Senator Randy Feenstra considered the strongest. All of these would-be congressmen chose not to run against King for being, you know, a bigot, but for being an ineffective bigot, as the Des Moines Register observes:
State Sen. Randy Feenstra of Hull, one of the challengers, said King can’t help Iowa’s farming communities or advance President Donald Trump’s priorities if he’s not on committees …
The candidates agree on broad areas of policy, from prohibiting abortion to repealing the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare — and King says he’s been a leader on those issues.
“I think people know that I’m the lead voice on the full 100% rip-it-out-by-the-roots repeal of Obamacare,” King said at the April 26 Crawford County Republican forum. “I’m hearing my words echo back in my ears here, and I remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
“He can talk all he wants about it, but what does he have to show for it? And that, to me, is black and white. That’s the difference,” Feenstra said.
And now, just three weeks from the June 2 primary, King has sprung a surprise on his rivals (he’s been hinting at it for a few weeks) that may just get him renominated. The Sioux City Journal has the story:
Northwest Iowa Congressman Steve King said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has agreed to a process by which the nine-term incumbent can get “exoneration” and back on committees that were stripped in January 2019 after King’s controversial published remarks about white supremacy.
“On April 20, Kevin McCarthy and I reached an agreement that he would advocate to the steering committee to put all of my committees back, all of my seniority,” King said at a forum Monday night.
“When Congress comes back into session, when the steering committee can (inaudible) together, I have Kevin McCarthy’s word that that will be my time for exoneration.”
If that’s true, then what is the remaining rationale for King’s Republican opponents?
The timing of this announcement is exquisite for King: Earlier this week, Feenstra (whose slogan, “Feenstra Delivers,” is an obvious allusion to King’s lost committee assignments) released a poll he commissioned showing him trailing the incumbent by three points (36/39). Both candidates, significantly, were running above the 35 percent threshold Iowa requires for party nominations; if no candidate hits 35 percent, the nomination is decided by a district convention (indeed, that’s how King got nominated for Congress in the first place in 2002).
If King can credibly claim he will soon get back his committee assignments and regain his own ability to “deliver,” it could give him a boost while fouling up the “effectiveness” messages of his opponents.
The Sioux City Journal tried to get in touch with Kevin McCarthy to verify King’s claims of imminent “exoneration,” without success. If you had to guess, you’d figure McCarthy will hedge, saying any restoration of King’s assignments and seniority are up to the steering committee. But anything short of a flat repudiation of King’s story probably leaves the old nativist in an enhanced position, given the campaign strategies of his GOP opponents.
The other northwest Iowa pol who may be cheered by King’s claim is Democrat J.D. Scholten, who came shockingly close to beating the incumbent in 2018. The conventional wisdom is that a presidential election year is not a good time for a Democrat to win in this heavily Republican district. But facing an opponent who (unlike Feenstra & Co.) is willing to call him out for his actual views could be a problem for Steve King, whose rhetoric and policy positions are a bit much, even for those who enjoy “political incorrectness.”