There is about one year left in what will seemingly be Iowa’s longest congressional primary race in state history. Shortly after Congressman Steve King won re-election in 2018, state senator Randy Feenstra announced he would be challenging King.
Since then Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor and small-town mayor Bret Richards have jumped into the race.
Living in the district — and in the most conservative part of the district — I have watched this race intently. I have talked with plenty of Republicans in the heart of the conservative Fourth District.
While political predictions are dangerous, I’ll make some anyway.
First, while King’s primary opponents will attempt to sell Republicans on the idea that he’s likely to lose a general election to a Democrat, that will not happen. Not in 2020. Not with President Donald Trump on the ballot.
If a person is willing to vote for Trump, do you really think they’re not going to be willing to vote for King?
In 2018 the King campaign just about lost the election due to their apathy. They thought they had nothing to worry about. They felt they were safe.
It’s a mistake they won’t make again. And in 2020, after having Democrats control the House of Representatives for two years, even some of those squishy, moderate Republicans will come around to support the Republican nominee — whether it is King or not.
Of all the predictions I’m going to make, I am most sure of this one — if King wins the nomination, he will win the general election. To suggest otherwise is buying into the hopes and dreams of the far left, who have made King their top congressional target in 2020.
I recently talked with someone who told me the former chair of the Sioux County Democrats said she was confident there would be Democrats crossing over in the Republican primary to vote against King. That presents Democrats with their best — and realistically only — chance to vote King out of office.
In order to vote in the Republican primary, though, Fourth District Democrats will have to bypass having a voice in the U.S. Senate primary, which should be competitive. And there may be a congressional primary for Democrats as well.
I am sure, however, they’d pass up that chance if they thought they could actually influence the Republican primary enough to keep King out of the general election.
Fundraising appears it will be a challenge. That’s no surprise as liberals are ready to target any person or corporation who donates significant dollars to King’s campaign.
In the past, for the most part, King has relied on his conservative credentials and proven track record to win campaigns rather than buying an election.
Grassroots Republicans in the Fourth District love Congressman King. Not only do voters in the Fourth District take comfort in knowing he will vote the right away on legislation almost all of the time — if not all of the time — but they also know he will stand up to Republican Party leadership if necessary.
He leads on life, religious liberty and the idea that our country is a nation of laws.
It’s hard to imagine King receiving less than 38 percent of the primary vote in 2020. That, to me, is his floor right now.
Currently I give King at 65 percent chance at winning this primary.
Feenstra is clearly the establishment’s pick. It isn’t debatable. It isn’t close. He has raised the most money thanks in part to strong support from donors in his own senate district.
However, Feenstra has never campaigned for any office in a primary or general election. He’s going to have to answer for some legislative antics over the next year and work to convince Fourth District Republicans he’s not going to be a bought-and-paid-for Congressman.
In addition to that, he’s going to have to convince Fourth District Republicans he will mirror King’s hardline stance against illegal immigration. That’s going to be complicated because doing that will turn off the biggest faction of folks who really want to see King gone — big ag. I’m not sure how Feenstra plans to walk that line, but it’ll be interesting to see.
While being the best fundraiser of the bunch isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s going to make this case an even tougher sell. When former Gov. Terry Branstad is donating to your campaign and campaign staff from Gov. Kim Reynolds is now campaign staff for Feenstra, it’s pretty obvious which candidate the establishment is backing.
King’s biggest critics will label him a lot of things — but they’d never label him part of the establishment. And grassroots conservatives (Republican primary voters in the Fourth District) will want a congressman capable of standing up to the establishment in D.C., not joining it.
Feenstra has represented perhaps the most conservative senate district in Iowa, but he’s not used that seat effectively at building up his name ID at all. Rather than touting issues that drive primary voters to the polls, he’s been content to champion economic issues.
That’s all fine and dandy, but it isn’t going to win a Republican primary in this district. And neither will money.
This primary is going to be decided by grassroots conservative Republican primary voters. Feenstra has an advantage with many of them since he lives in conservative Sioux County, but how his ability to draw that bunch from other areas of the district will be pivotal if he has any shot at winning this thing.
Currently I’d give Feenstra a 25 percent chance at winning this primary.
Jeremy Taylor has suspended his campaign while he heads overseas to serve in his role as chaplain for the Iowa National Guard. I have seen him speak a few times and he says almost all of the right things.
His own personal life story is one that audiences seem drawn to.
Taylor does a good job of coming across as sincere and genuine. He seems more than willing to trumpet conservative issues that other candidates challenging King don’t seem to want to draw as much attention to.
His biggest challenge is going to be separating himself from King. On the issues there doesn’t seem to be many huge differences — if any. So how does he find about 40 percent of the Republican primary voters willing to vote for him over King and everyone else?
I don’t know.
The conservative credentials are seemingly there, but King, Feenstra and Taylor would likely almost always vote the same way on major issues. So the question is which one is most likely to fight for their district and for conservatism?
We all know King will stand up to party leadership. We have to see when, if ever, Feenstra has stood up to folks on his own side. Taylor comes across as a guy who would willingly engage his own Party if necessary (and we know it’ll be necessary).
I see Taylor’s bloc of voters being folks who are conservative, but are tired of King and not from Sioux County, where Feenstra resides. Folks are very local to their own, and it seems even more so in Sioux County.
If Taylor figures out a way to convince voters he is the conservative alternative to King, that will present him with the best opportunity for victory. But he is going to have to work his tail off and get it done through a grassroots campaign.
Taylor has a 10 percent shot at getting it done. That’s probably a little high, but there’s potential there. If he finds a way to win this race, it’s going to be because he earned it. There’s only one candidate in the race right now who could buy it, and that’s Feenstra.
I’ve only seen Richards speak once. There were some definite nerves. But I admire the guy’s willingness to run for Congress. He is by far the least known candidate in the field.
You can read about him here.
In all honesty, I’m not sure how Richards can win. Northwest Iowa will go a long ways in determining who wins this primary and I’m not sure many in Northwest Iowa has any clue he’s running.
His best bet at making a serious run at this thing may be to go Trump. He is going to have to figure out a way to get headlines and free media. He’s going to have to say things in a colorful way. He’s going to have to use every trick in the book to get his message out to voters.
Now, while few in conservative-rich Northwest Iowa know Richards, if he works really hard every where else in the district maybe that’s another option for him. Convince those voters he wants to represent the entire district and not just the conservative Northwest corner of it.
I don’t want to say it’s impossible because anything could happen. That said, I give him a 1 percent chance to win this election.
So what about the other 9 percent?
There’s always a chance something crazy happens and for one reason or another King doesn’t seek re-election. I’m not sure what that scenario would have to look like, but we can never say never.
In that scenario, all bets are off and this primary field gets much bigger. If for some reason King did not stay in the race, I predict this thing would have so many competitors that it would head to convention.
So far it has been a relatively timid primary. King is going to fight to retain his seat. I have no doubt about that. He wants to prove the nation — and those establishment Republicans in Des Moines and D.C. — wrong.
He is relying on the people who know him best — the voters in his district — to do that.
King won’t lose voters when he defends himself and fights back. In fact, his ability to take on his political opponents and willingness to not back down from a fight is a huge reason he has the support he does.
And there are only so many voters who like that in a candidate.
It’s another facet of the race that will make dethroning King so tough for Feenstra, Taylor and Richards.
If you attack King too hard, not only do you energize the conservative base for King, but you risk the conservative base encouraging others to vote for anyone but you.
If you don’t attack King at all, you don’t look like the fighter the Fourth District wants in D.C.
If you attack him on the issues, then it’s likely you are taking a liberal position or establishment Republican position.
If you attack him on his rhetoric, then you are using the same talking points as the Democrat National Committee and simply rebooting J.D. Scholten’s campaign of 2018.
While that nearly worked for Scholten in 2018, it’s not a winning strategy in a Republican primary.