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Iowa voters oust Rep. King, shunned for insensitive remarks

Steve King

State Sen. Randy Feenstra carried Webster County Tuesday on his way to apparently defeating U.S. Rep. Steve King and winning the Republican nomination in the Fourth Congressional District.

That district includes Webster County and all of its surrounding counties.

King was seeking his 10th term. He won his ninth term in 2018 in his toughest race, beating Democrat JD Scholten.

Scholten had no opponent in the Demcoratic primary. He will face Feenstra in November.

With 35 of 39 counties in the district reporting results late Tuesday night, Feenstra had 29,303 votes. King had 26,803 votes.

Randy Feenstra

”I am truly humbled by the outpouring of support over the past 17 months that made tonight possible and I thank Congressman King for his decades of public service,” Feenstra, of Hull, said in a written statement.

”As we turn to the general election, I will remain focused on my plans to deliver results for the families, farmers and communities of Iowa,” he added. ”But first, we must make sure this seat doesn’t land in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and her liberal allies in Congress. Tomorrow, we get back to work.”

In Webster County, Feenstra won 1,145 votes.

King won 1,061 votes.

Bret Richards won 190, Jeremy Taylor won 144 and Steve Reeder won 96.

King was stripped of his committee assignments in 2018 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. The congressman also made controversial remarks through the years about immigrants, Islam and abortion.

“There is a little bit of concern that he’s become tone deaf to some of these issues,” longtime King supporter Ann Trimble Ray said, referring to voters’ concern that King has been marginalized in Congress, though she remains a believer of the congressman.

Establishment Republicans suggested King’s ouster would easily keep the seat in the party’s hands, warning a King primary victory would jeopardize that by setting up a rematch with the Democrat who came within 2 percentage points of beating him two years ago.

King was vastly outspent by Feenstra and conservative groups backing him, including onetime King backer National Right to Life, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group.

Several of King’s former supporters shrugged at the litany of comments that fueled the congressman’s love-hate relationship with national media. However, they drew the line not with the comments in a 2018 New York Times story that seemed to defend white nationalism but with the reaction by House GOP 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.

“I personally feel very let down about some of the things that have happened because we need someone who is strong in agriculture from this area,” said former King supporter, state Sen. Annette Sweeney, who backed Feenstra.

King said during the campaign he had been assured privately by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that he’d support King’s reinstatement on the committees, a claim McCarthy dismissed publicly to reporters last month.

Democrats chose from four relative unknowns to take on Ernst in what has has shaped up to be a more competitive Senate race than expected.

Ernst’s job approval and overall favorable ratings have dropped in the past year as she has sought to balance support for President Donald Trump, who is popular with Republicans but far less so among others in the state.

Greenfield had the edge, in part because of her compelling story of being widowed as a young mother and owing her rebound to Democratic priorities, Social Security and union benefits.

Perhaps most notably, the 55-year-old Greenfield impressed with her fundraising, bringing in more than $7 million since entering the race last year. That’s at least $5 million more than any of her Democratic opponents and reflects the endorsement of the Democrats’ national Senate campaign arm.

While Ernst has lost some of her footing, it’s difficult to say how the Senate race proceeds in light of the continuing pandemic, the uncertain economy and now protests over over police treatment of African Americans, including in Iowa where Trump won by more than 9 percentage points in 2016.

One recent data point, lost on many except Iowa Democratic leaders amid the ongoing crises: Registered Democrats in Iowa edged registered Republicans in March for the first time in more than six years, and now also outnumber voters unaffiliated with either party.

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