Republican Rep. Steve King is seeking a 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He hopes to be reelected to the rural and conservative 4th Congressional District, which spans northwest and north-central Iowa. King has easily won nearly every election, but this time he is facing opposition from four other conservative Republicans who want his seat.
There’s little difference in what King and his four challengers stand for. They’re anti-abortion. They want to secure the southern U.S. border. They defend the Second Amendment.
“We need an effective conservative that has done proven results,” said state Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, during a recent primary candidate forum that aired on a radio station in Spencer.
Feenstra touts his record in the Iowa Senate as an effective conservative leader who can deliver. He says he’ll bring that to Washington.
“I’ll work with President Trump,” Feenstra said. “We’ll build the wall, secure the border. We will defund Planned Parenthood across our country.”
Jeremy Taylor of Sioux City is a U.S. Army National Guard Major and chaplain. He’s a former state representative and Woodbury County supervisor. He calls himself a constitutionalist.
“I’ll stand for balanced budgets and term limits,” Taylor said, “the Second Amendment, repealing Obamacare, a secure border and for our ag community and for freedom.”
Former Irwin Mayor Bret Richards says his service in the army and role in running a family business have given him the skills to work together and listen to the public.
“Can you think of any place that needs those skills more than our dysfunctional federal government?” Richards asked. “I’m running because you deserve someone who will be focused on solving problems.”
Arnolds Park businessman Steve Reeder likens himself to President Trump, who also didn’t come from a political background.
“I have a real simple message of limited government, more faith and more freedom,” Reeder said. “This is a message that I hear resonating across all of Iowa, the 4th District, and I want to take that to Washington.”
King appears to be facing the most serious challenge within his own party as he seeks a 10th term against four opponents in the primary.
“I think the race that we’re seeing reflects to some degree some internal soul searching, really, among Republicans in the 39 counties that comprise the 4th Congressional District,” said Bradley Best, a political science professor at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake.
In the 2018 general election, King’s Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten came within 3 percentage points of him. Best says this has contributed to the perception that King may be vulnerable.
“Representative King, the incumbent, appears to be suffering deeper self-inflicted wounds than at any time in the past,” Best said.
King was stripped of his House committee assignments in early 2019 after The New York Times published a comment he made on white nationalism. King says the quote was misinterpreted. He’s frequently defended himself since, including at the forum. He said to the people listening that he’s never let them down on any Republican principle.
“I have run to the sound of the guns every time and I not only walk towards the fire, I walk through the fire,” King said. “And I’m deeply tempered by that experience. And I can face those people down because I’m right and they’re wrong …”
Best says King has a lengthy history of making highly controversial remarks, but his base of supporters has always rallied behind him. King’s opponents appear to be capitalizing on him losing his committees. They’re saying they would be a more effective conservative in Congress, without the baggage. Best says Feenstra, with his state credentials, has brought the biggest challenge against King. He’s out-fundraised all the Republican candidates and captured some high profile endorsements.
“He’s using that obviously to craft a message that Representative King’s time has expired and that he’s in a position both to win the nomination and ultimately to go on to win in the general election," Best said.
Even if Feenstra is bringing the biggest challenge, voters in the 4th District still have five Republican candidates to choose from. That’s the biggest pool of candidates since King won the Republican nomination in a four-way special convention in 2002.