Top Republicans and other conservative groups are rallying around Representative Steve King’s challenger ahead of the June 2nd primary election, worried that the lawmaker’s nine-term record of inflammatory remarks will be a drag on the Republican Party everywhere.
Party leaders such as Karl Rove and Representative Steve Stivers, the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, have donated to businessman Randy Feenstra, who emerged as King’s top challenger for the Republican nomination in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District.
Feenstra’s internal polling puts him within the margin of error, and he’s built a commanding financial lead over King, whose fundraising dried up after he was stripped of his committee assignments last year following his latest round of controversial remarks about race.
“Yes, [Feenstra can win], and I think it’s important for the GOP that he does,” Rove told the press. “All the ugly, bigoted things Steve King says results in mud thrown on every other Republican.”
Scott Reed, a political strategist for the U.S. Chamber, said he’s worried that King is so poisonous that it could drag down Senator Joni Ernst’s re-election bid, potentially placing the GOP’s Senate majority in peril.
“We care about maintaining a Republican majority in the Senate, and we’re concerned Steve King will be an albatross to Joni Ernst,” Reed said. “She is going to need every vote in rural Iowa that she can get.”
King’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
King has however been remarkably resilient, even though he routinely draws national headlines and angry rebukes from his colleagues for remarks on immigrants, race and rape that are labelled as bigoted, racist and insensitive.
“Normally, any incumbent being outspent this drastically by a credible opponent would be in trouble, but Republicans in the 4th District have stood by Steve King for years, even when he’s an embarrassment to the state,” said Sam Roecker, a Democratic strategist based in Des Moines, Iowa.
Former Representative Tom Tancredo, who has donated to King’s campaign, thinks Iowans in the 4th Congressional District find King’s straight talk refreshing.
“The people of the district, they appreciate him,” Tancredo said. “They appreciate that he says what he says and how he says it. He’s to the point, and I think that will pay off for him. All the rest of this is a lot of extraneous noise.”
But, King almost lost to Democrat J.D. Scholten in 2018, winning by only 3 points in his extremely red district after winning by more than 20 points in 2016.
The Republicans and conservatives backing Feenstra believe that King has never faced a credible conservative challenger and that Feenstra might be it.