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Primary election may be decision day for divisive Steve King

Incendiary Representative Steve King survived the closest election of his career in 2016 by defeating Democrat J.D. Scholten by 3 percentage points. He faces a potentially tougher race in the Republican primary election on Tuesday, against four challengers who say they are just as conservative as King without his tinge of white extremism.

Scholten’s near success turned the northwestern Iowa district into a battleground race this year. Democrats hope to pad their majority in the House with a victory in the general election November 3; Scholten is running again. Some analysts say the GOP’s best chance to retain the seat in a staunchly conservative district is to nominate someone less controversial than King.

In a demonstration of their repugnance of King’s record of nativism and white identity language, House Republicans barred King in January 2019 from serving on any committees. They acted after the New York Times quoted King as saying, “White nationalist, white supremacy, Western civilization – how did that language become offensive?”

Until then, King was a high-ranking member of the House Agriculture and Judiciary committees. Most of the work in drafting legislation is done at the committee level, so King lost influence when he lost his committee seats. It also could be a harbinger of electoral trouble. In 2012, GOP leaders ousted Kansas Representative Tim Huelskamp, a hard-line conservative, from his post on the Agriculture Committee for repeatedly voting against GOP positions. Farm groups in the Big First congressional district turned against Huelskamp and helped Roger Marshall defeat him in the 2016 Republican primary. Marshall is serving his second term in the House.

State Senator Randy Feenstra, arguably the strongest of King’s adversaries, has said northwestern Iowa could suffer without representation on the Agriculture Committee and “literally result in the loss of thousands of jobs and countless farms.”

In an early May poll commissioned by his campaign, Feenstra trailed King, 39% to 36% – a statistical tie – overall but led in the Sioux City area, the population center of the district. “He’s opposed to any infringement of our Second Amendment rights” and “he’ll fight against the liberal attempts to eliminate the Trump tax cuts,” says the Feenstra for Congress website.

“Fact is, I’m more pro-Second Amendment than the NRA and a lot more pro-life than National Right to Life,” said King in a guest column in the Sioux City Journal. King, who helped Texas Senator Ted Cruz win the Iowa precinct caucuses over now-President Trump in 2016, said he was the target of “billionaire coastal RINO-NeverTrumper, globalist, neocon elites.”

Also running for the GOP nomination are real estate broker Steve Reeder, business executive Bret Richards, and former state representative Jeremy Taylor.

If none of the Republicans gets at least 35% of the vote on Tuesday, the nominee will be picked by a district convention.

A fifth-generation Iowan, Scholten played minor-league baseball and is running a grassroots campaign. In the 2018 race, he drove nearly 60,000 miles around the district.

Also on Tuesday, Iowa Democrats will choose their nominee against Republican Senator Joni Ernst, a first-term senator and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Real estate executive Theresa Greenfield has the lead in fundraising.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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