In northwestern Iowa, King’s cruise to re-election hits a pothole

Anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King has suddenly found himself fighting his toughest re-election contest in years in the reliably conservative northwestern quadrant of Iowa, with an online poll showing his Democratic challenger only 1 point behind him. King, an eight-term Republican, ordinarily wins by landslide margins but has faced unusually strong criticism this time, both in the district and nationally, where he is seen as an ideological firebrand.

The head of the House Republican campaign committee scolded King publicly on Tuesday for supporting white supremacist groups, behavior that has been shrugged off in the past as click-bait hyperbole but has been seen as reprehensible in the wake of the massacre of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior,” said Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio.

Two political handicappers say the race between King and J.D. Scholten, the Democratic nominee, “leans Republican,” a more competitive rating than the previous “likely Republican.”

“It would still be surprising if [King] lost. It’s closer than it should be,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan newsletter. Trump won the district by 27 percentage points in 2016. King did a hair better, taking 62 percent of the vote.

The Crystal Ball said King’s “interactions with hateful white supremacists are becoming more frequent and more visible. … King does not seem to be taking his re-election campaign all that seriously, and J.D. Scholten (D), a paralegal and former professional baseball player, appears to be significantly pushing King.”

King purchased $90,285 worth of airtime on Des Moines and Sioux City stations for the campaign’s first TV ad, which was to begin airing today, said the Des Moines Register. Earlier on Thursday, Roll Call said King “is laying low until the midterms” and has no public events scheduled.

The polling firm Change Research said that in an online poll taken last weekend, 45 percent of respondents supported King and 44 percent backed Scholten. The poll had a margin of error of 4 points. Scholten, who has raised twice as much money as King, has made the Sino-U.S. trade war a centerpiece of his campaign.

King has a thin legislative record, although House Republicans included his Protect Interstate Commerce amendment in their 2018 farm bill. While the amendment is framed broadly, an immediate impact would be to free midwestern egg farmers from having to comply with California’s animal welfare rules in order to sell eggs in the state. “Our Founding Fathers wanted to see a free trade zone” among states, said King. California lawmakers said the amendment would jeopardize any state regulation related to agriculture that was stronger than federal rules.

But the Iowan is better known for his anti-immigrant rhetoric. “Culture and demographics are our destiny,” he tweeted last March. “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

“Steve King inhabits the netherworld of the ‘alt-right,’ makes racist remarks about brown people, Tweets support for a white supremacist in Toronto, and meets with a leader of Austria’s nationalist movement. Voters of the Fourth District are obliged to stand up and vote him out. It is high time for us to quit pleading ignorance to his openly racist and fascist behavior, or that he consorts with neo-Nazi extremists,” said the Storm Lake Times on Wednesday in endorsing Scholten.

The largest newspaper in the district, the Sioux City Journal, which has backed King in the past, endorsed Scholten a week ago, describing him as “bright, articulate, personable” and willing to dig into complex issues such as immigration. “As we have said before, we would prefer King spend less time trying to ‘save’ Western civilization and making a national name for himself as a conservative leader trying to move the nation to the political right. We would rather he commit to becoming, say, a more influential congressional leader in agriculture.”

King is “a full-spectrum Constitutional Conservative,” says the biography on his House website. “He believes the Constitution means what it says and should be read with the intent of our Founding Fathers in mind. … He is a strong advocate of the Rule of Law and enforcing our borders.”

In June, FERN published a story about the contest in Iowa’s 4th House District. To read it, click here.