Iowa Rep. Steve King Draws a Primary Challenger for 2020

January 9, 2019
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Rep. Steve King. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Iowa Rep. Steve King, the nine-term lawmaker whose history of making xenophobic statements and palling around with white supremacists made him a flashpoint of controversy during the 2018 election, will face a primary challenger in 2020. State senator Randy Feenstra announced Wednesday he plans to run for Congress in King’s 4th District, arguing that “our current representative’s caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table.”

A professor of business at Sioux Center’s Dordt College, Feenstra was first elected to the Iowa Senate in 2008 and currently serves as that body’s assistant majority leader and chairman of the Ways and Means committee. He has made a name for himself as a staunch social conservative and bills himself as an ironclad Donald Trump supporter. His pitch to voters, in fact, centers around the fact that the sideshows that have dogged King have made him a hindrance to the president’s agenda.

“I just think it’s time to have an effective conservative leader in the 4th Congressional District,” Feenstra told local radio station KIWA Wednesday. “We need to have a person that can create policy for main street and agriculture and that has our shared conservative values.”

It’s too early to tell, of course, whether Feenstra represents a serious challenge to King’s 2020 prospects. For one thing, despite his decade of public service, Feenstra is a novice to the game of campaigning: In both of his previous elections he ran unopposed.

But there’s ample evidence to suggest that King is more vulnerable to a primary challenger than ever before. In his first eight election campaigns, his worst ever showing was in 2012, after his district was reapportioned, leaving him with a bluer map and a heap of unfamiliar constituents. Nevertheless, he still defeated former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack by eight points. By 2016, he was firmly back in control, defeating Demorat Kim Weaver by nearly 23 points. But in 2018, following months of controversy, King limped to the finish against a rookie challenger, J.D. Scholten, whom he held off by only 3.4 points—despite enjoying a 14-point district-wide edge in party affiliation. Even that he managed only by painting a stark contrast between himself and his opponent on social issues like abortion.

In 2018, this message resonated with enough conservatives to propel King to victory. He’ll have to think of a new angle if he means to get past Feenstra in 2020.

Andrew Egger

Andrew Egger is a senior writer at The Bulwark.