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Scholten Unsure Of What's Next After Two Unsuccessful Bids For Congress

John Pemble
IPR File
Democrat J.D. Scholten got about 38 percent of the vote in this election against Republican Randy Feenstra's 62 percent, according to unofficial results. In 2018, Scholten lost by just 3 points to Republican Congressman Steve King.

After losing to Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King by just 3 points in 2018, Democrat J.D. Scholten saw a much different outcome against Republican State Sen. Randy Feenstra on Tuesday in the race for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. The former minor league baseball player isn't sure what's next for him, but says his campaign built something special over two cycles.

According to unofficial results, Republican state Sen. Randy Feenstra captured 62 percent of the vote while Scholten got about 38 percent, losing by a much bigger margin than he did in 2018. Scholten said his campaign worked hard but, “It was clear there was a big Trump wave throughout the State of Iowa. And it took us down.”

“I had looked at a lot of different scenarios that our models showed for where we'd be at,” Scholten said. “And it was nowhere near that. It was just pretty frustrating for our campaign because we worked our tails off.”

President Donald Trump won Iowa by more than 8 points. Buena Vista University political science professor Bradley Best said Feenstra benefitted from voter turnout for Trump and he’s a social conservative without the controversies that have surrounded outgoing Congressman King.

“Randy Feenstra was in every sense of the word a made-to-order candidate for the Republican Party in the 4th District,” Best said.

Heading into Election Day, Best said he had anticipated that Scholten was as strong or even a little stronger than 2018, when he was a fresh face to the political landscape. Scholten out-fundraised and outspent Feenstra in the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Best said Scholten’s fundraising advantage signaled to political analysts that he was a viable candidate in the race.

“But it was not enough to eclipse the combined effect of Feenstra as a candidate with everything to offer social conservatives in western Iowa, none of the baggage of his predecessor and the power that the presidential race had as a nationalizing force here in the 4th District,” Best said.

A September Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll showed 49 percent of respondents favored a Republican in the 4th District to 44 percent that favored a Democrat. The gap widened in the latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll released Saturday, with respondents preferring a Republican to a Democrat 50 percent to 33 percent. Scholten said his campaign had rejected that poll, because most other polls showed he was within five points of Feenstra.

“To where [the race] ended up was just eye opening,” Scholten said.

The 4th Congressional District, which spans 39 counties in northwest and north-central Iowa, has about 80,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats as of November. It is Iowa’s most conservative district. Scholten’s 2018 and 2020 runs were both considered uphill races.

“At the same time, we built something pretty darn special still out here and built a lot of relationships,” Scholten said. “So I don't think I'll necessarily be completely invisible. But I don't know what the next step will be.”

When Scholten ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, he saw a deluge of last-minute momentum and donations. King, in the weeks leading up to Election Day, tweeted his support for a white nationalist candidate in a Toronto mayoral race. The Washington Post reported in late October 2018 that King sat down for an interview with a website associated with a far-right Austrian party with Nazi ties.

Feenstra ran on his record in the Iowa Senate, touting tax cuts and expanded ethanol consumption. He has said his top priority is getting a seat on the House Agriculture Committee, which King lost when he was stripped of his committee assignments in January 2019 following an interview with the New York Times. Scholten’s campaign largely focused on wanting to fix the health care system, fighting for an economy that works for everyone and securing democracy from special interests.