Without fail, every congressional election–especially in “wave” years–features one or more major upsets in races no one was even watching. We may be seeing this play out in real-time in the district of one of the most odious members of the House, Steve King. For 16 years, King has represented a portion of Iowa that is, at least on paper, is one of the reddest pieces of real estate in the nation. But on Saturday, the largest newspaper anchored in that district endorsed his Democratic challenger.
King represents Iowa’s 4th district, which covers the northwest quadrant of the state–from Sioux City through Ames to Mason City. It is by far the most rural and most Republican district in Iowa. It has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+11, and Donald Trump won it by a punishing 61-39 margin over Hillary Clinton.
King held this seat since 2003, and has only really had to break a sweat once since then. That came in 2012, when former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack took a run at him when this district was seemingly made more Democratic. However, King still won by eight points. In every other race, King has won by at least 22.
But there are signs that King may have a fight on his hands. His Democratic challenger is paralegal and former baseball player J. D. Scholten. Just two years after coming back to his native Sioux City to help take care of the family farm, he is taking a run at a man who has recently spent most of his time pushing white nationalist memes rather than take care of the needs of his mostly rural 39-county district.
For instance, earlier this fall King gave an interview to a far-right Austrian Website in which he railed about one of white nationalists’ favorite topics–the idea that whites are being “replaced” due to immigration from non white countries. In other words, the idea behind the “You will not replace us!” chants we often hear at racist rallies.
And yet, King has never sponsored any major agricultural legislation, despite representing the district that leads the nation in many agricultural staples–corn, soybeans, pork and eggs. But at least the people of this district may have a choice this time. Scholten introduced himself to northwest Iowa last year; watch here.
Over the last year, Scholten has crisscrossed this vast district numerous times in his trademark Winnebago. It’s paying off in a big way. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Scholten has raised over $1.6 million–more than double King’s total of just over $736,000.
This is staggering on several counts. Democrats simply aren’t supposed to raise this kind of money in districts this red. Indeed, only two previous Democratic challengers–including Vilsack–were able to raise more than $1 million for the entire cycle. The other five raised a grand total of $982,000 between them. Moreover, this is an area where paid media is really cheap.
It’s also an area where newspaper endorsements still count for a lot. And Scholten managed to scoop up an endorsement from the biggest newspaper based in the district, the Sioux City Journal. It’s the first time that the Journal has not endorsed King for (re-)election since his first bid for Congress in 2002.
The Journal acknowledged that King “reflects in his votes the positions of many, if not most 4th District constituents.” This isn’t as big an exaggeration as it may seem. Iowa uses nonpartisan redistricting, so on paper King really did represent this district.
However, in the past, the Journal has expressed concern about King’s his penchant for “inflammatory or questionable comments” and “intolerant ugliness.” It has also been displeased with King’s focus on “making a national name for himself” in an effort to pull the country rightward, as well as his reluctance to hold town halls or debate his opponents.
From what the Journal has seen of Scholten, however, the Journal believes that if elected, he would be a congressman that northwest Iowa can be proud of.
As a congressman, we believe Scholten would choose his words carefully, create no national controversies, bring no embarrassment to the district, seek to unite and not divide, focus his time and energy almost exclusively on issues directly impacting the lives and livelihoods of constituents, and hold regular town halls with the public. He represents changes we believe speak to the best interests of this congressional district as a whole.
In other words, the Journal is seeing many of the same things that garnered Scholten an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes last Friday–something that normally doesn’t happen for a Democrat running in a district this red. In that interview, Scholten slammed King for reportedly not even visiting portions of this district in at least six years–but finding time to fly to Austria in that same time frame.
The Journal has historically been a very Republican newspaper, which is no surprise given the Republican bent of this area. Indeed, just 24 hours after endorsing Scholten, it endorsed Governor Kim Reynolds for a full term. However, it is an old-school Main Street Republican paper, which showed itself when it chastised King for his hard-right demeanor.
Apparently its readers are of the same mind. The comments on the Journal’s Facebook page are, for the most part, positive. You would think that in a district this red, there would be a lot of comments branding the Journal a liberal rag.
This race hasn’t been polled since September, when a poll for the Scholten campaign showed King only leading 43-37. Tellingly, King hasn’t publicly released any polling to counter it. More tellingly, an Iowa Poll conducted last December by The Des Moines Register–long the gold standard for polling in Iowa–suggested a generic Republican only had a 39-36 lead over a generic Democrat.
In other words, there was clearly an opening for a credible Democrat to give one of the worst members of the House a run for his money. And most pundits believe Scholten at least has a chance to seize it. Nearly all handicappers rate the race in Iowa’s 4th District as “likely Republican” or its equivalent.
Simply put, districts this red should not even be on the board this close to Election Day. Anything less than a double-digit win for King will likely be a sign of a long night for the GOP. And if Scholten wins, Katy bar the door–the Democrats are probably winning the House by a city mile.
Scholten has done a bang-up job even making this a race. But he’s going to need a lot of help if he’s going to do the nation a favor and send King packing. Click here to donate.
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