Republicans in the U.S. state of Iowa ousted Rep. Steve King in Tuesday’s primary, deciding they’ve had enough of the conservative lightning rod known for making incendiary comments about immigrants and white supremacy throughout his nearly two decades in Congress.
The nine-term congressman, shunned by his party leadership in Washington and many of his longtime supporters at home, lost to well-funded state Sen. Randy Feenstra in a five-way Republican Party primary. The challengers argued that King’s loss of clout, even more than his continuous string of provocative and racially charged statements, was reason enough for turning on him.
“I said from Day 1 that Iowans deserve a proven, effective conservative leader that will deliver results and I have done that in the Iowa Senate, being in the Iowa Legislature for the last 12 years, and I promise you I will deliver results in Congress,” Feenstra said during a Facebook Live appearance with his family behind him.
Iowa Democrats also chose a challenger for Republican freshman Sen. Joni Ernst in a race earlier thought to heavily favour Ernst until her approval shrank over the past year. Des Moines businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, who raised the most money and garnered the widest cross-section of the Iowa Democratic coalition of elected officials and labour unions, won the nomination over three others.
But the focus was on the 4th District primary featuring King, the lone Republican in Iowa’s U.S. House delegation.
King was stripped of his committee assignments in 2019 for comments appearing to question the criticism of white nationalism in an era of increased sensitivity among Republicans nationally about the alt-right and white supremacists. He wondered aloud in a New York Times story about when the term “white supremacist” became offensive. King said the remarks were taken out of context.
Compared immigrants to livestock
The 71-year-old had piled up provocative statements throughout the years, comparing immigrants to livestock and appearing to make light of rape and incest in defending his anti-abortion views.
Critics in both parties charged that King was no longer an effective representative for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District on agriculture and other local issues.
Establishment Republicans suggested King’s ouster would easily keep the seat in the party’s hands, warning a King primary victory would jeopardize it. Feenstra faces Democrat J.D. Schoulten, who lost by two percentage points to King in 2018.
King was vastly outspent by Feenstra and conservative groups backing him, including one-time King backer National Right to Life, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group.
“I called Randy Feenstra a little bit ago and conceded the race to him, and I pointed out that there’s some powerful elements in the swamp and he’s going to have an awfully hard time pushing back against them,” King said, referring to outside groups that spent to support Feenstra and attack King. “He assured me that’s what he would do, and I’m thinking of those super PACs that came into this race and how powerful they are.”
Several of King’s former supporters shrugged at the litany of comments that fuelled the congressman’s love-hate relationship with national media. However, they drew the line not with the comments published in the Times story but the reaction by House Republican Party leadership.
King was tossed from the judiciary committee, which would have given him a high profile role defending President Donald Trump during the 2019 impeachment hearings. He also lost his seat on the agriculture panel, a blow to the representative whose district produced more agricultural products in raw dollars than any district but Nebraska’s massive 3rd District, according to the most recent federal data.