Until Donald Trump’s staggeringly racist Twitter attacks on four progressive Democratic congresswomen of color, there was no question that the biggest racist in the Republican Party was Congressman Steve King. In his nine terms in Washington, King has been more content to peddle white nationalist memes and cultivate ties to the European far right than tend to the needs of his mostly rural turf in northwest Iowa. This is a man who essentially chanted “You will not replace us!” not once, not twice, but three times at least.
It finally caught up with him in the space of four months in 2018 and 2019. He narrowly avoided being capsized in the massive Democratic wave of 2018, surviving by just three points against Democrat J. D. Scholten–easily the closest race of his career, and the closest race period in this district in 32 years. From the looks of it, King only survived because of longer-than-expected coattails from Governor Kim Reynolds, who swept most of the district in her bid for a full term.
Anyone else would take this as a warning. Not King. In January, he openly wondered why being branded a white nationalist was such a bad thing. In response, his Republican House colleagues stripped him of all of his committee assignments. Apparently he didn’t get the hint; for some time, he promoted a post from VDare, one of the most notorious white nationalist Websites, on his
Both Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball have King’s seat pegged as “likely Republican”–which is very telling. King’s turf is easily the reddest in all of Iowa, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+11. Trump cleaned Hillary Clinton’s clock here, 61-34. The mere fact a district this red is even on the board should be a very cold douche on any Republican hopes for retaking the House in 2020, even with Trump atop the ballot. Simply put, if a D+11 district were even on the board and the incumbent wasn’t under indictment, the liberal blogosphere would be in full panic mode.
Simply put, King is in deep trouble. And that trouble may have become even deeper on Thursday, when the most prominent social conservative in Iowa publicly threw him overboard and endorsed his main challenger in the Republican primary.
For the better part of the last four decades, the Iowa GOP has been one of the most fundified state party organizations outside the South. That’s especially true in King’s home turf of western Iowa. For the better part of a decade and a half, the most prominent voice in the Iowa GOP’s social conservative faction has been Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader. When he talks, Iowa Republicans listen. He was briefly national co-chairman of the Ted Cruz 2016 campaign, and there’s little doubt his support helped Cruz win the Iowa caucuses.
Earlier, Vander Plaats’ support helped fellow fundie Mike Huckabee over the finish line in the 2008 caucuses, and helped fuel Rick Santorum’s win in the 2012 caucuses. While Vander Plaats held his nose and voted for Trump in 2016, he made clear he wasn’t going to endorse everything Trump did.
In other words, Vander Plaats seems to be one of the few fundies who still seems to have a conscience. Sadly, many religious right luminaries have lost theirs in their rush to bow down to Trump. Apparently he has little time for King’s nonsense either. After all, this afternoon, he publicly endorsed the man challenging King in the Republican primary, state senator Randy Feenstra.
This stands in marked contrast to the line taken by a number of prominent religious right leaders after King lost his committee seats. They wrote an open letter to the House GOP leadership that said, in so many words, “Leave Steve King alone!” Apparently the fundies on King’s home turf aren’t as enamored with him.
Feenstra, whose state senate district is largely coextensive with the northwest corner of the congressional district, jumped into the race in January, saying that King’s incendiary tactics have left northwest Iowa “without a seat at the table.” He is easily the first credible primary challenger King has faced since his first run for the seat in 2002.
King is probably very nervous right now. A good portion of grassroots support from fundies in his district is now very likely to follow Vander Plaats’ lead and support Feenstra instead. This all but assures that the Republican primary in this district will get nasty, and get nasty early.
This development makes the lack of a Democratic challenger hard to comprehend. Granted, this district would be a tough lift in any election, and is going to be especially so with Trump atop the ballot. Scholten, the only Democrat who could even potentially make this a race, hasn’t made up his mind whether to make a comeback. Well, J. D., consider this an extra incentive. After all, if King does come out of the primary, he will almost certainly be severely bloodied.
Moreover, King only raised $874,000 for the entire 2018 cycle–a year in which, as in years past, he was essentially coronated as the Republican nominee. Now he has to do some heavy lifting to win the GOP primary–and has only raised $153,000, way behind Feenstra’s $400,000.
King has been one of the most odious members of Congress for some time. With Vander Plaats effectively rebuking King by endorsing Feenstra, it’s clear that he’s going to have a fight on his hands on his own turf, and could potentially have a fight on his hands in the general election as well. That makes it all the more likely that at least one race-baiting Republican will be on the unemployment line in 2021.
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