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Iowa voters might have finally had it with Steve King’s Nazi pandering

One poll shows the Democrat a point behind in the most conservative district in the state.

Iowa Freedom Summit Features GOP Presidential Hopefuls
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) at a 2015 event in Des Moines, Iowa. 
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Longtime Republican Rep. Steve King, who recently retweeted a Nazi and routinely makes white supremacist comments with aplomb, is suddenly looking like his reelection bid could be in trouble.

Just a week from Election Day, three big corporations, Intel, pet food company Purina and dairy company Land O’Lakes, announced they are pulling financial support from the Iowa Republican’s campaign, which is already low on cash. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the official campaign arm for House Republicans, condemned King’s comments and actions.

A new poll from Change Research also shows King’s Democratic opponent J.D. Scholten, a former baseball player and paralegal, polling within a single digit of King. To be clear, this is one poll; FiveThirtyEight still gives King about an 80 percent chance of winning reelection in a seat he has held for 15 years and won in 2016 with a resounding 61 percent of the votes.

On the other hand, this could a sign of larger trouble for King. Coming a few days after a mass shooting believed to be motivated by anti-Semitism that killed 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, King is taking heat for his racist rhetoric and support for politicians in Canada and Europe with ties to neo-Nazis. Local Jewish faith leaders and a separate group of more than 40 interfaith leaders within the district are penning two letters to the editor denouncing King’s run and calling on more donors to abandon him.

For his part, King is blaming “fake news” and “Establishment Never Trumpers” in a statement released Tuesday.

King’s district — the most conservative in Iowa — has always come home to him. But the Republican, who hasn’t put up a single campaign ad on TV this cycle, is suddenly at risk of being overshadowed by Scholten. The Democrat has been beating King in fundraising and is putting even more ads on air in the final week.

“What is interesting about the Fourth [Congressional] District is that Steve King doesn’t expect a challenge, and he doesn’t campaign very hard,” David Andersen, a political scientist at Iowa State University told Vox. “I have not seen Steve King’s message. He keeps a year round campaign staff that is his family. And I don’t know what they’re doing.”

Steve King is a long-time racist. So far, he’s sailed easily to reelection.

Donald Trump Attends Joni Ernst’s Annual Roast And Ride In Des Moines
Steve King (second from right) campaigns with then-presidential nominee Donald Trump and Iowa politicians including Kim Reynolds (center right), Terry Branstad, and Joni Ernst in 2016.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

King’s explicit racism has a long history, but he has been given even more of a platform under President Donald Trump, who himself has repeatedly echoed far-right and neo-Nazi messages. King notably has the Confederate flag displayed prominently in his office, and has repeatedly disparaged black, Muslim, and Hispanic people. He’s often said he doesn’t believe in multiculturalism, saying it holds America back.

In the House, the Iowa Republican holds a leadership position on a Judiciary Committee subcommittee on immigration, and isn’t particularly popular with even his most conservative colleagues. But until now, he’s been tolerated.

When King tweeted that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” Speaker Paul Ryan responded that he “would like to think [King] misspoke.” King went on television to try to clarify: “I meant exactly what I said. ... If you go down the road a few generations or maybe centuries with the intermarriage, I’d like to see an America that’s just so homogenous that we look a lot the same.”

The district, which covers northwest Iowa, has embraced King. He has won by more than 20 points in every congressional race he’s mounted. Andersen says voters don’t seem particularly happy with how King represents them, but there is some pride in not being some “sleepy conservative district.”

“He doesn’t bring any federal dollars, he doesn’t sponsor legislation, but he brings notoriety,” Andersen said.

The two biggest issues in this district are the economy — especially the impact of how Trump’s trade regime is impacting the agricultural industry — and how people feel about Trump himself.

People in this part of Iowa love Trump. But also there is an understanding that if Trump’s trade wars with China continue, a lot of farms are going to have to shut down.

That’s where the Democrats’ message can step in.

The Democrat who thinks he can beat King

J.D. Scholten, the Democratic candidate challenging King.
Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call

Until recently, JD Scholten’s campaign seemed like a longshot. But while King has been acting like his seat isn’t competitive at all, Scholten has raised more than $1.4 million, put up ads, and is planning to campaign in every county in the district.

Scholten is bombarding voters with ads, but King seems to be channeling most of his energy into his Twitter feed. He has dwindling financial resources with which to make his case; King had just a little more than $176,000 cash on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.

Scholten is a first-time candidate who was jolted into politics by Trump’s 2016 election, but his eyes are squarely on King’s seat.

“When you’re a young(er) Midwesterner who admires Paul Wellstone and Tom Harkin, there’s not a greater political fight than defeating Steve King,” Scholten told Vox’s Jane Coaston in a March email interview. “His controversial statements are an embarrassment, and his ineffectiveness and votes to the detriment of the district are what fuel my passion in this pursuit.”

In such a conservative district, Scholten can’t win on Democratic votes alone, and he’s hoping to win over moderate Republicans and independents. He’s walking a fine line, supporting progressive policies like Medicare-for-all (he says he supports a public option first, but wants to work toward Medicare-for-all eventually) and supporting the Second Amendment.

King is explicitly anti-abortion, and while Scholten supports a woman’s right to chose, he is Catholic and supports expanding access to contraception, family planning, and adoption to reduce abortion rates. It’s a strategy embraced by special election breakout star Conor Lamb.

Even though King’s rhetoric hasn’t put him in electoral danger in the past, Scholten is banking the constituents of the Fourth Congressional District are sick of the racism.

“This is the best chance we’ve ever had to beat Steve King,” Scholten said. “People have finally grown tired of his divisiveness. A lot of moderate Republicans have told me they’re supporting me because they’re tired of him embarrassing them and giving their party a bad name. His rhetoric has grown stale at a time where people are paying attention more than ever.”

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